A study released by Cornell University has some simple advice for how to increase the consumption of healthy foods by children. The study, which was presented as part of the American Dietetic Association Conference in California last week, concluded that straightforward steps were often the most effective when it came to getting kids to eat better.
The study was presented by professor Brian Wansink. It was conducted through the auspices of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of the Cornell Center for Behaviorial Economics in Child Nutrition Programs at the university.
Here are some of the key insights gained from the study as well as information about the BEN program.
* The BEN program at Cornell has caught the eye of first lady Michelle Obama. She and the White House chef have endorsed the program as part of her Let’s Move initiative.
* Let’s Move is focused on promoting and encouraging both physical fitness and healthy eating habits in children, in order to help combat the widespread epidemic of childhood obesity throughout the U.S.
* Let’s Move has also been instrumental in promoting the USDA’s new “MyPlate” program, which breaks down nutritional needs into an easy plate diagram.
* Let’s Move and BEN have teamed to form the Chef’s Move to Schools program. That program is targeted toward fighting childhood obesity in schools, primarily through the school lunch program and other initiatives.
* The Chef’s Move to Schools program is primarily run through the USDA.
* One of the simplest things that the Cornell study found was that just putting fruit in a more colorful bowl and featuring it more prominently in the layout of the meal increased consumption by a whopping 104 percent without doing anything else.
* Through the various initiatives that the team has partnered with, Wansink and his colleagues have made close studies of various types of lunchroom designs and layouts with an eye towards figuring out how they impact nutritional choices.
* The Cornell study also found other simple measures, like reducing the size of cereal bowls, easily impacted portion size without making a point of it. Putting unflavored milk behind chocolate milk in the lunch line also influenced healthier overall choices.
* Wansink and his team have helped lunchrooms in New York and elsewhere in the country redesign their space to promote healthier food choices in students.
* The BEN program focuses on such research, allowing the team to advise policymakers on how to make changes in their lunchroom spaces most efficient and most encouraging to healthy eating habits.
* The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement focuses on using available research to redesign lunchrooms in a way that is either low-cost or no-cost for the schools involved. In this way they hope to show how easily schools can influence healthier eating habits in students.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.