BYU professor researches influence of salad bars

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Let’s Move! initiative has made healthier choices for kids by putting salad bars in public schools. (Nate Edwards)

In response to the national Let’s Move! inititative, BYU health professor Lori Spruance conducted research on how to implement more salad bars in schools to provide a healthier menu for students.

She said the purpose of her recently published study in Sage Journal, was to find how to get students to eat from salad bars by looking at the demographics of who uses the salad bars in their schools.

“I think it’s really important for schools to consider if a salad bar would be used in their schools before implementing one,” Spruance said.

Spruance handed out surveys to public schools to see how kids would react to having a salad bar in school.

“I’m a big proponent of creating environments that are healthy for children, especially the school food environment,” Spruance said.

Spruance started the study in 2012 with 12 public schools in New Orleans. She said success with salad bars occur when advertising and marketing efforts are increased throughout the school.

The study was part of her dissertation work at Tulane University.

Her research provides ways to better market school salad bars and shows females were more likely to use the salad bars than males. She said adolescents may perceive some foods as gendered.

“Salad is more of a female food, whereas steak maybe more masculine,” Spruance said. “There may be some deeper nuances regarding the perception of certain types of foods that this study did not measure.”

She also found children are more likely to eat healthy foods and will use the salad bars more often if they are exposed to them more.

Gary Ledoux, Utah County personal trainer and father, said salad bars in schools would help his kids get the nutrients they need to focus and have energy during the school day.

“My wife and I are personal trainers who work with students from public schools, and it is so hard trying to get them to make good choices when there are few to no healthy options at some of their public schools,” Ledoux said.

Ledoux said once healthy food is available, the hardest part is getting students to choose the salad bar instead of pizza and french fries.

“I encourage parents, teachers and administration to set the example to help children make the right eating choices so that the students will be more inclined to want to eat from the salad bar,” Ledoux said.

Spruance said she believes school salad bars could be one way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, but more research needs to be conducted to identify if salad bars really do increase healthy eating.

“While many argue that salad bars are a way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, I argue that we first need to consider how schools can adopt them, as well as if kids use them,” Spruance said.

Program director of the Chef Ann Foundation Curry Rosato said 4,803 schools across the nation have been granted with salad bars and the program is continuing to grow.

“With 30 million students eating at schools across the nation, some don’t have access to healthy food at home,” Rosato said. “We are supportive of this program because if these kids can have a salad bar option at lunch, they get to choose what they want, fresh veggies or fruit they want and the portion size which they will eat it — because it is their choice.”

Rosato said a letter to parents or signs on the salad bar advertising fresh fruits and veggies might encourage kids to choose healthier options from the salad bars.

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