Lunch Tray's Go Viral
July 20, 2011

Dr. Priscilla Connors, an Associate Professor in the Hospitality Management program at The University of North Texas, received research funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop and pilot test strategies to "nudge" middle school students to make more nutritious lunch choices  at their school cafeterias. The researchers collected data on menus, food choices, consumption, and plate waste in selected Texas middle school cafeterias, and observed the choices made by the students in those cafeterias. Shortly after the lunch tray images were completed and displayed online at the UNT digital library, they went viral.


During this research, lunch trays of 7th graders at two middle schools were observed for two days each. Lunch trays were labeled with randomized numbers that indicated the school and lunch line so that trays could be matched for before and after photographs. Dr. Connors stated, "The objective was to find subtle, non-intrusive ways to encourage healthy eating in school nutritional environments." The study attempted to only minimally interfere with the amount of time it took students to pass through the line so that time for eating would not be compromised.


The results included over 1400 images that were first analyzed by the research team, then uploaded to the UNT Digital Library. News of these images spread quickly and was picked up by who reported the uniqueness of the digital library and its ability to solve the problem of management and organization of researcher's data. Usage of these images has reached numbers in the thousands, and continues to rise.


The research team included Dr. Priscilla Connors, Dr. Carolyn Bednar from Texas Women's University, Dr. Beverly Davenport from UNT's anthropology department, Sarah Wilcox, Rian Davis, and Lisa Canon.

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