A recent study has linked short lunch periods in schools to less healthy eating among kids. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study states that students with less than 20 minutes to eat school lunches consume significantly less of their entrees, milk, and vegetables than those who aren’t as rushed.
Lead author Juliana Cohen said that many children, especially those from low-income families, rely on school meals for up to half their daily energy intake so it is essential that we give students a sufficient amount of time to eat their lunches.
Senior author Eric Rimm added that every school day the National School Lunch Program helps to feed over 30 million children in 100,000 schools across the U.S., yet little research has been done in this field.
While recent federal guidelines enhanced the nutritional quality of school lunches, there are no standards regarding lunch period length. Many students have lunch periods that are 20 minutes or less, which can be an insufficient amount of time to eat, according to the authors.
The researchers found that students with less than 20 minutes to eat 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.
While there were no notable differences between the groups in terms of entree, milk, or vegetable selections, those with less time to eat were significantly less likely to select a fruit (44 percent vs. 57 percent). Also, there was more food waste among groups with less time to eat.
Waiting in serving lines or arriving late to lunch sometimes left children in the study with as little as 10 minutes to actually sit and eat. The researchers acknowledged that while not all schools may be able to lengthen their lunch periods, they could develop strategies to move kids more quickly through lunch lines, such as by adding more serving lines or setting up automated checkout systems.
The study appears online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.