Students eat more fruits and vegetables when provided with a lunch salad bar in schools, reported by the researchers of University of California.
The findings revealed that the consumption increased drastically from 2.97 to 4.09 times daily and daily intake of energy, cholesterol and total fat also declined considerably. The lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and the UCLA School of Public Health Dr. Wendy Slusser said that the root cause behind increasing obesity in American children is they do not consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
'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,' said Slusser. She also said that increasing the availability of healthy foods could improve the diet.
'Increasing the availability and accessibility to healthy foods is one way to improve children's diets. In turn, this sets up opportunities for kids to have repeated exposure to healthy food and positively impact their choices, ' she added.
The study was conducted over 337 children in grades 2 through 5 in 1998 and 2000 where they were interviewed using a 24-hour food-recall questionnaire, both before and after having the salad bar.
Marlene Canter, a school board member said that providing fresh fruits and vegetables increases the consumption. 'The results are clear. If we provide in kid-friendly ways, we will increase consumption,' said Canter. The researchers said that eating fruits and vegetables helps in reducing the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. It can improve health by providing vitamin C, potassium and fiber in the body and displacing the fat food.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 36.4 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 19 eat the recommended three to five servings of vegetables per day, and only 26 percent eat the two to four recommended daily servings of fruit.
The salad bar program showed us that children will indeed eat more fruits and vegetables if offered in an appetizing and accessible manner,' said Slusser. 'Future studies should evaluate parent education with school lunch menu changes, as well as why boys are less likely to eat from the salad bar at lunch than girls, ' she further added. The salad bar program was developed together by LAUSD Food Services and Occidental College in Los Angeles.
The research is published in the December issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Public Health Nutrition.