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September 15, 2015

Study: School lunch periods too short for kids to eat healthy meals

Do children have enough time to eat in school?

Short lunch periods in schools are linked with less healthy eatingaccording to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study, published in the "Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics," found that students with less than 20 minutes to eat school lunches consume significantly less of their entrées, milk and vegetables than those who aren't as rushed.

"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," Juliana Cohen, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the students' food selection and consumption by monitoring what was left on their plates at the end of the lunch period. They found that students with less than 20 minutes to eat lunch consumed 13 percent less of their entrées, 12 percent less of their vegetables and 10 percent less of their milk than students who had at least 25 minutes to eat. 

In addition, students who waited in serving lines or arrived late to lunch were sometimes left with as little as 10 minutes to actually sit and eat.

"We were surprised by some of the results because I expected that with less time children may quickly eat their entrée and drink their milk but throw away all of their fruits and vegetables," Eric Rimm, the study's senior author, said in a statement.  "Not so--we found they got a start on everything, but couldn't come close to finishing with less time to eat."

While there are no standards regarding lunch period length, and not all schools may be able to lengthen their lunch periods, researchers suggested that schools develop strategies to move kids more quickly through lunch lines, such as by adding more serving lines or setting up automated checkout systems.

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