January 2008

Grant Results

SUMMARY

In 2004, the Chicago schools began a "Cool Food" program, offering salad bars in schools. In a 2005–06 project, researchers from the Chicago Food System Collaborative studied whether providing nutrition education to children affected their lunch choices in schools with salad bars.

The Chicago Food System Collaborative is a consortium of community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, technical assistance providers and academic institutions. One of its missions is to increase access to healthy foods in minority communities.

Key Findings
Jamie B. Bussel, the project's program officer at RWJF, notes that the main finding is: "When the environmental change of offering salad bars in schools has been implemented, their use is increased, especially when the change is also coupled with nutrition education."

  • Children ate more fresh fruit and vegetables after receiving nutrition education.
  • Children's knowledge of fruits and vegetables significantly increased after receiving nutrition education.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided a $65,000 unsolicited grant to support the study from July 2005 through September 2006. Loyola University - Chicago Graduate School acted as the collaborative's fiscal agent for the grant.

The Michael Reese Health Trust ($20,000) and the Coalition to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children ($12,500) also supported the study. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided the Chicago Food System Collaborative with $760,000 to support its ongoing work, including this project.

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THE PROBLEM

Despite widespread concern about childhood obesity and nutrition, many school systems offer unhealthy lunch options. In the Chicago public schools, food vendors have followed the United States Department of Agriculture's school nutritional standards. Nevertheless, a typical week of lunches may include pizza, fried chicken, cheeseburgers and fried fish, with limited offerings of cooked or fresh vegetables, according to staff of the Chicago Food System Collaborative.

In 2004, the Chicago schools began a "Cool Food" program, offering salad bars in schools.

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RWJF STRATEGY

The Childhood Obesity team has three overlapping strategies to address the epidemic: Building the Evidence Base, Action and Advocacy.

Investments in building the evidence base will help ensure that the most promising efforts are replicated throughout the nation.

The Foundation's major research efforts in this area — Active Living Research (for more information see Grant Results), Healthy Eating Research and Bridging the Gap — are contributing to the nation's collective knowledge about the changes to policies and to community and school environments that are most effective in increasing physical activity and improving nutrition for children.

RWJF also seeks to evaluate innovative approaches under way in states, schools and communities across the country.

For instance, RWJF supported an independent evaluation of efforts to implement Arkansas Act 1220, which mandated a comprehensive approach to addressing childhood obesity in public schools.

The Foundation also funded a separate initiative to analyze body mass index (BMI) data for all Arkansas public school students. Already, the BMI analysis has indicated that, in just three years, Arkansas has halted the progression of the epidemic in the state. See Tracking Progress: The Third Annual Arkansas Assessment of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity.

This project is part of this strategy.

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THE PROJECT

In 2005–06, researchers from the Chicago Food System Collaborative studied whether providing nutrition education to children affected their lunch choices in schools with salad bars.

The Chicago Food System Collaborative is a consortium of community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, technical assistance providers and academic institutions. One of its missions is to increase access to healthy foods in minority communities.

Over a six-month period, project researchers observed the foods kindergarten and first-grade students in two Chicago schools chose to eat for lunch and measured how much waste they left on their trays. Both schools — Oscar de Priest Elementary School and Namaste Charter School — offered salad bars. Students at Namaste also received nutrition education.

Project staff conducted six 30-minute nutrition education sessions at Namaste over a six-week period. Students learned to identify particular fruits and vegetables and their importance to health. Classes also grew container gardens.

Project staff administered a 12-question quiz about fruits and vegetables to Namaste students before and after they received nutrition education. Students from Oscar de Priest Elementary school, who did not receive nutrition education, took the same quizzes.

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FINDINGS

Program Officer Bussel notes that the main finding is: "When the environmental change of offering salad bars in schools has been implemented, their use is increased, especially when the change is also coupled with nutrition education."

Project staff reported the following findings in a report, Evaluation of a Salad Bar and Nutrition Education Initiative: A Pilot Study:

  • Children ate more fresh fruit and vegetables after receiving nutrition education.
    • After receiving nutrition education, the average number of children at Namaste Charter School choosing an entrée or item from the salad bar nearly doubled, from 14 to 27. Over the same period at Oscar de Priest Elementary School, the number declined from nine to five.
    • After receiving nutrition education, the average number of children at Namaste selecting a fresh fruit item increased from 21 to 24. Over the same period at Oscar de Priest, the number declined from 45 to 34.
    • Children were more likely to choose a salad bar entrée on days when fish and pasta were served, and less likely to when burgers and pizza were served.
  • Children's knowledge of fruits and vegetables significantly increased after receiving nutrition education. After receiving nutrition education, the quiz scores at Namaste were significantly higher than those at the comparison school.

Recommendations

The researchers made the following recommendations:

  • Give children more time to eat. Project staff found that approximately 45 percent of what the children were served in the cafeteria was discarded. This was especially true of the children at the end of the line, who had about five minutes to eat.
  • Decrease the portions served to students to reduce waste.
  • Limit the availability of hot foods, such as pizza and hamburgers, that compete with the salad bar.
  • Incorporate nutrition education throughout the curriculum.
  • Place the salad bar at the beginning of the lunch line to encourage students to eat salad as an entrée.
  • Teachers should model healthy food choices by choosing salad bar entrées for lunch.
  • Reward children who make healthy food choices. Food service staff can use verbal praise or small items such as stickers to reward healthy food choices.

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AFTER THE GRANT

Both schools continue to use the salad bars. In February 2007, the Chicago Food System Collaborative received a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for the Chicagoland Fresh Food Financing Project. The project is working on alternative financing to bring healthy food into the community and schools at an affordable price.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Pilot Effort to Increase Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Choices through Classroom Nutrition Education and Salad Bars in Two Chicago Minority Schools

Grantee

Loyola University-Chicago Graduate School (Chicago,  IL)

  • Amount: $ 65,000
    Dates: July 2005 to September 2006
    ID#:  053126

Contact

Phil Nyden, Ph.D.
(312) 915-7761
pnyden@luc.edu
LaDonna Redmond
(773) 600-1491
songobisi@netzero.net

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Reports

Suarez-Balcazar Y, Kouba J, Martinez L, Hellwig M and Redmond L. Evaluation of a Salad Bar and Nutrition Education Initiative: A Pilot Study. Chicago: Chicago Food System Collaborative, 2006.

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Report prepared by: Barbara Matacera Barr
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Jamie B. Bussel