Summertime Eating Habits Improved Through The Healthy Lunchbox Challenge
February 19, 2014

Healthy Lunchbox Challenge Found To Improve Summertime Eating Habits

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Through the implementation of a theory and incentive-based dietary program at four community-based summer day camps, researchers from the University of South Carolina report that they were able to significantly increase the amount of healthy food and decrease the amount of sugary drinks and salty snacks brought by children.

The initiative is known as the Healthy Lunchbox Challenge (HLC), and according to the investigators, it is a low-cost nutrition program that requires minimal resources and attempts to address the issues of food selection and rapid weight gain in children typically observed during the summer months.

The summertime weight-gain phenomenon is the result of a shift for responsibility for food choices to the parents, they added. During the school year, 21 million children nationwide receive free or reduced-price lunches, but less than one in ten of those youngsters are involved in the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.

Writing in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Dr. Michael W. Beets of the university’s Department of Exercise Science and his colleagues instituted the HLC program at four in-state day camps over an 11 week period including a parent/staff educational session and child/staff incentive program.

They observed the food and beverage choices of 1,977 children and 241 staff members through direct observations, and noted that the number of youngsters who brought fresh fruit increased 12 percent. Furthermore, 11 percent more children brought vegetables and 14 percent more brought water on average from baseline to post-assessment.

Similarly, Dr. Beets and his associates recorded decreases of 15 percent in the amount of chips and 13 percent of non-100 percent juices brought. Amongst the staff, they noted an 18 percent and 13 percent increase in fruit and vegetables brought, and decreases of 31 percent for chips and 6.4 percent for soda.

“With over 14 million children attending summer day camps, introduction of the HLC can serve as a way to influence the eating habits of children during the summer,” explained lead author Falon Tilley of the University of South Carolina’s Department of Exercise Science. “These findings have important implications for summer day camps and other child care settings where there is minimal control over the foods brought on-site.”

“The researchers believe the HLC can be easily implemented in summer day camps and consequently influence the eating behavior of children,” the university added in a statement Tuesday. “However, further research is needed to determine the success of HLC in other settings. Future research should also explore additional modes of education for parents and any other barriers to implementation.”