Maybe School Lunchrooms Hold the Answer

Did you ever hear the story about the two women who were discussing where to go for dinner?  The first woman said, “Let’s go to that new place that we read about last week.”  The second woman responded, “But I hard that the food and service wasn’t very good.”  To which the first woman responded, “I heard that too, but the portions are supposed to be quite large!”

Studies have shown that our dinner plates have grown larger over the years and our portions have responded in kind.  Data just released from the Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey estimate that only 33.2 percent of Michigan adults are neither overweight or obese!  31.7 percent of adults qualify as obese (a BMI – body mass index – of 30.0 or higher), while 35.1 percent are overweight (BMI of 25.0 – 29.9).  Recent national, and local, reports have also addressed increasing weight issues in youth.

[For those of you who want to check yourself out, take your weight (in kilograms) and divide it by your height (in meters) squared.  Sorry, but I will leave it to you to find your metric conversion table.]

The lightest region of the state (where the share of adults were neither overweight or obese) was Region 1 – the 7-county SEMCOG region.

While “The Biggest Loser” has continued high ratings and has spawned copycat shows, and LA Fitness and other membership gyms are very popular, though the parking lots that were filled as a result of New Year’s resolutions begin to empty out in May, the lines at buffet restaurants just keep getting longer.

Alas, the Free Press carried a story this week that may be the answer to getting us started early in life to begin eating healthier.  Once we get that “under our belts” we can start adding that regular exercise regimen.

Research out of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab is showing how to help children make healthier food choices in the lunchroom.  Here are the finding highlights:

• Put healthy foods at the beginning and end of the lunch line. It increases student purchases 10% to 15%.  Put fruit in well-lit areas

• Make suggestions. When cafeteria workers asked kids if they wanted salad with the pizza, salad sales increased by a third.

• Put ice cream in a freezer without a see-through door.

• Use smaller bowls at the cereal bar. That shrank consumption 24%.

• They moved the salad bar away from the wall and in the center of the room next to checkout.

• Give students a choice between two or three vegetables. This increased the likelihood that they would eat at least one.

• Have a healthy express checkout for students skipping chips and desserts. This doubled healthy sandwich sales.

• Require students to use cash instead of lunch tickets for desserts. Students then bought 71% more fruit and 55% fewer desserts.

The Food and Brand Labs’ campaign encourages food service directors to take on only one or two goals a year.  Perhaps we can all take a lesson from this.