Kids rushed at lunch eat less, Harvard study shows

Kids rushed at lunch eat less, Harvard study shows
© Getty Images

Students who are rushed at lunch eat significantly less of what’s on their tray, a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found.

The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on Friday found that students with less than 20 minutes to eat their lunch consumed 13 percent less of their entrees, 12 percent less of their vegetables and 10 percent less of their milk than students who had at least 25 minutes to eat. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Juliana Cohen, the study’s lead author and an adjunct assistant professor in the nutrition department at the Harvard Chan school, looked at 1,001 students in six elementary and middle schools, with lunch periods ranging from 20 to 30 minutes, in low-income urban school districts in Massachusetts.

While there were no notable differences between the groups in terms of entree, milk or vegetable selections, the study showed that those with less time to eat were significantly less likely to select a fruit — 44 percent versus 57 percent — and wasted more food.

And a number of students studied actually ended up with as little as 10 minutes to sit after waiting in serving lines. Though Harvard researchers said they understand that not all schools are able to lengthen their lunch periods, they suggested schools could develop strategies, like adding service lines and setting up automated checkout systems, to move kids through lunch lines at a quicker pace.

“We were surprised by some of the results because I expected that with less time children may quickly eat their entrée and drink their milk but throw away all of their fruits and vegetables,” the study’s co-author Eric Rimm said in a news release. “Not so—we found they got a start on everything, but couldn’t come close to finishing with less time to eat.”

With debates swirling about whether school meals should be healthier, The Pew Charitable Trusts, which has been pushing members of Congress to strengthen the healthy standards in reauthorizing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, said the Harvard study reinforces what foodservice professionals have been saying all along.

“If we want young people to eat more of the foods they need, we should not be debating whether to serve them fruits, vegetables and whole grains but rather focusing on how to make sure they have adequate time to eat them,” Jessica Donze Black, the trust’s director of child nutrition, said in a statement.