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Getting teens to buy in to school lunch

A study from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found that some interventions successfully change students’ perceptions of school lunch, resulting in modest changes in school lunch participation. The interventions measured included teacher education and outreach, cafeteria redesign, and increased points of sale through vending machines and food carts.

As a result of these interventions, lunchtime fruit and vegetable consumption by 10th graders increased by 6%. For 9th graders, fruit intake increased by only 0.1 cups a day. These changes suggest that additional interventions may be necessary, according to the study.

This analysis was a partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District and part of a larger study to find out what may increase middle school and high school students’ participation in school lunch programs. Researchers find that school lunches are usually healthier than lunches bought off-campus or brought from home and may increase students’ fruit and vegetable consumption.

According to co-author Hannah Thompson, a Community Health Sciences research scientist at Berkeley Public Health, a policy change in minimum wage in the City and County of San Francisco seemed to be the biggest factor for school lunch participation. This change reduced the number of students who were previously eligible for free or reduced-price meals, which brought down school lunch participation.

“I think one of the most important implications from this work is that, despite best efforts within a district to implement new interventions, broader policies or changes to local economic conditions that impact how or if students qualify for free or reduced-price meals may have a greater influence on school lunch participation,” Thompson said.

Thompson emphasized that through this study, researchers also found that changing what kinds of food is served in school lunch programs may be critical to making significant increases in school lunch participation. Researchers surveyed students to find that school meal quality was perceived to be lower than other studies on school meal quality during similar years, suggesting that this change could be necessary.