2009 - 2010 Undergraduate Research in Nutrition and Food Science
Introduction: In the United States, 32% of children 2 to 19 years of age are overweight or obese with those from lower socioeconomic families at the greatest risk. Harmful changes in lifestyle, including overconsumption of unhealthy food and lack of physical activity, have contributed to this sudden pandemic of obesity in the past 20 years. One of the most influential food service establishments for children is the United States public school system. Over 25 million students use the National School Lunch Program and National School Breakfast program daily. These meals account for half the daily caloric intake for children that receive them. The types of food the children choose during breakfast and lunch can greatly influence their health.
Objective: To determine if children from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds choose foods that contain more calories and are less nutrient dense during breakfast and lunch at school compared to their peers from families of a high socioeconomic background.
Setting: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Subjects: 238 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, of which 73 were 3rd grade students, 86 were 4th grade students, and 79 were 5th grade students. Participants included 134 males and 104 females.
Methods: Surveys were distributed to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School during homeroom. The survey contained questions that asked about the types of specific foods the students would choose on a typical school day during breakfast and lunch. The student was also asked how much they paid for lunch to determine their socioeconomic status.
Results: Most of the students were free lunch recipients and chose the higher calorie food items. The students who paid full price for lunch chose more fruits and vegetables during lunch and the less sugar containing items during breakfast. The students who paid a reduced fee for breakfast and lunch chose items that were lower calorie and also picked more fruits and vegetables during lunch.Conclusion: Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds chose items that were higher in calories and fat compared to their higher socioeconomic peers. More education at school on how to make healthier food choices could benefit children and have an impact on their overall health.