Dining hall labelling helps students eat healthier

June 19, 2017 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition Labeling, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Dining hall labelling helps students eat healthier

As students transition from high school to university, they enter a risky period for weight gain. Although eating in a buffet-style dining hall offers freedom and flexibility in food choices, many students cite the abundance of food available as a cause for weight gain.

As most college students' diets are low in fruits and vegetables and high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium, researchers from the University of Toronto and Memorial University of Newfoundland created a study to examine whether messaging encouraging fruit, vegetable, and water intake could influence the habits of university students.

The study was conducted in a dining center on the University of Toronto campus that offered a wide variety of entrees and soups, featured a salad and fruit bar, and had sides, desserts, and 19 beverage options available daily.

The first part of the intervention encouraged students to choose water as their beverage by using physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) labeling, which illustrated the minutes of jogging required to burn the calories in the different beverages offered. In the second part of the intervention, posters were hung in strategically selected locations to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. The posters were placed in attention-grabbing places to maximize exposure to the intervention.

Data were collected in-person on six events before, and six events after the intervention; inventory data were used as a secondary source.

Labelling prompted students to drink more water, increase fruit and vegetables

Between 368 and 510 students visited the dining hall for each dinner when data were collected, filling 8,570 beverages cups and taking 3,668 and 954 trips to the salad bar and fruit bar, respectively. After the interventions, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was reduced and fruit and vegetable intake was increased.

The researchers found a significant increase in students drinking water before versus after the intervention, with 43% choosing water before and 54% doing so after. And trips to the fruit bar increased by six percent and trips to the salad bar increased by 12%.

These results are promising, particularly regarding the PACE labeling. Interventions to promote increased fruit, vegetable and water consumption should be repeated in different settings to determine if similar results can be attained.

Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, June 2017.

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