USDA funds study of food choice innovation in school cafeterias
September 20, 2010

Childhood obesity is growing at an alarming rate in the United States, and it is no surprise that school cafeterias are blamed for the growing waistlines of our youth. Ask any tween to list their favorite item on the school menu, and most likely you will hear "pizza, chicken nuggets, and hamburgers."  Indeed, children spend a significant proportion of their day at school and many are surrounded by unhealthy food choices. 


A research team, led by Dr. Priscilla Connors associate professor in hospitality management, hopes to reinvent the cafeteria experience by studying food choice architecture as an economical way for school nutrition programs to both nourish children and unobtrusively educate them about healthy eating.


Connors, along with co-investigators Dr. Lisa Kennon, associate professor in hospitality management, Dr. Beverly Davenport, assistant professor in anthropology, and Dr. Carolyn Bednar, professor in dietetics from Texas Woman's University, received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to study food choice innovation in middle school cafeterias.   


Over a two-month period this fall, the trained research team, along with student partners, will examine the  physical, social, and economic environment as they observe and evaluate secondary data sources such as menus, meal participation records, and plate waste in two middle school cafeterias in North Texas.


In the second phase of the project, the team will work with an advisory board composed of students, school faculty, cafeteria staff, and parents to design and test an intervention that nudges student food consumption in a healthful direction. The goal is to leapfrog known strategies and test a new application of behavioral economics that promises measurable effects on food choice with minimal impact on cafeteria operations and revenues.


The 18 month project launches next month and will culminate in a presentation at the fall 2011 USDA Economic Research Services workshop in Washington, D.C.

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