By Amy Albin
Published Jan 7, 2008 2:33 PM
Want to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? Offer a salad bar at school and students will chow down more of the good stuff.
So conclude UCLA researchers who kept lunchtime tabs on 337 second-through-fifth-graders in Los Angeles schools. Providing a salad bar at school nearly doubled students' fruit and vegetable consumption — a finding that led to a vote by the L.A. Unified School District school board to include salad bars stocked with fruits and vegetables as part of the district's hot lunch program.
School salad bars could help counter the expanding problem of childhood obesity, says Wendy Slusser, assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and the UCLA School of Public Health.
"One of the major contributing factors to the high rate of overweight children in the United States is that they do not consume the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables," says Slusser, who was lead author of the study, published in the December issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Public Health Nutrition.
Most U.S. children fall short of the U.S.D.A's daily recommended 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruits. Slightly more than one-third (36.4 percent) of kids between 2 and 19 years of age eat enough vegetables, and one-fourth (26 perfect) eat enough fruit. What kids do eat plenty of tends to be not so healthy — foods high in cholesterol and fat. This situation led LAUSD food services and Occidental College in Los Angeles to experiment with a salad bar program at three elementary schools and UCLA researchers to follow the program’s progress.
Fruit and vegie consumption among low-income students nearly doubled — from 2.97 to 4.09 times daily — while their daily intake of cholesterol, saturated and total fat declined.
"The results are clear," says school board member Marlene Canter, who was among those who voted to provide salad bars. "If we provide fresh fruits and vegetables in kid-friendly ways, we will increase consumption."
UCLA co-authors include William G. Cumberland, Ben L. Browdy, Linda Lang and Charlotte Neumann.