With nearly one-third of all children and adolescents in the U.S. overweight, parents and school officials face a difficult challenge in trying to instill healthy eating habits. Despite many attempts, they’re still finding it difficult. But a recent pilot program in rural New York shows promise, and it comes at almost no extra cost, because it only involves sending parents weekly nutrition report cards by email.
For the program, which was conducted by researchers from Cornell University, 27 parents received weekly emails that listed the amounts and types of food that their children were eating. The report cards included totals for the number of meals, white milk, flavored milk, water, fruits and vegetables, starchy sides, ice cream, cookies, chips, and other snacks that the child consumed. At the end of the study, the researchers found that students whose parents got report cards were more likely to eat healthier, choosing fruits and vegetables more often, and flavored milk less frequently than a control group.
“I like seeing the snacks they purchased,” one parent involved in the study said in an open-ended response after the study took place, according to a statement. “It made me understand why my one son was always out of money on his account.” The report cards also offer an opportunity for parents to speak with their children about the food they are eating, and to teach them about healthier eating habits. “Keeping track of what my children were purchasing at school was helpful in talking with them about making better choices about food,” another parent said, according to The Atlantic.
“This pilot study underscores that a nutrition report card is feasible and efficient… Although the results are preliminary, they suggest that [nutrition report cards] may be helpful in nudging children toward more healthy, less expensive options … at little cost to the school district,” the researchers wrote in the article describing the study in the journal PLOS One.
Child obesity rates have more than doubled in children and adolescents over the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pilot program is just another in a slew of attempts — from Obama administration’s National School Lunch Program to paying kids to eat healthier to banning homemade lunches to allowing children to pre-order their food — to abate the childhood obesity epidemic, which has shown signs of stabilizing recently.
Source: Wansink B, Just D, Patterson R, et al. Nutrition Report Cards: An Opportunity to Improve School Lunch Selection. PLOS One. 2013.