Longer seated lunch time associated with more consumption of fruit and vegetables in children

1. Compared to 10-minuted seated lunch, 20-minuted seated lunch led to increased amount of fruit and vegetables consumed amongst children.

2. 20-minute lunch did not increase phone usage but increased rate of interaction among participants.

Evidence Rating Level: 1 (Excellent)

The National School Lunch Program aims to ensure children have access to and consume foods that are nutritious. However, such large-scale program also needs to consider broader areas such as food waste, food education, and eating behavior to be successful and sustainable. Regarding eating behavior, there is currently no federal policy for lunch time duration in the United States. Some observational studies have identified an association between seated lunch time and healthier eating behavior in children. However, a randomized trial that can better control for inherent variations in food preferences and eating environment is needed.

This randomized control trial assessed eating behavior, food waste, and dietary intake during 20-minute or 10-minuted seated lunch periods in 38 children. Participants were aged 8-14 years old, attended the same summer camp and observed for 20 study days. Each participant received one of 5 free lunch sets and were randomly assigned a 10 or 20-minute seated lunch time each day. The primary outcomes were amount of food and beverage consumed and wasted each meal. Staff also observed each participant’s level of talking and phone use during the lunch period. Compared to 10-minute seated lunch times, participants in 20-minute seated lunch times consumed significantly more and wasted significantly less fruits and vegetables. However, no difference was observed in consumption of entrees or beverages. Furthermore, phone use was similar in 10-minute and 20-minute lunches, but talking time was increased during 20-minute lunches. Overall, shorter lunch time seemed to disproportionately decrease consumption of fruit and vegetables.  This study was limited in sample size, age of children represented, and environmental context. Nonetheless, these findings highlight potential benefits of systemic policies around seated lunch time to improve food behavior and reduce food waste in school aged children.

Click to read the study in JAMA Network Open

Image: PD

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