N° 29 | February 2018

Salad Bars in New Orleans Schools: Studies to explore student intake of F&V and the individual and school level factors that influence use of salad bars

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Childhood obesity continues to be a public health problem in the United States. Increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables (F&V) is one strategy for offsetting the consumption of energy-dense, sugary and high-fat foods, thereby improving weight status. Many public schools in New Orleans, Louisiana, were provided with salad bar equipment to augment their school lunches through the national Let's Move! Salad Bars to Schools initiative. The value of a salad bar program, however, depends on whether students actually use the salad bar. Few studies have examined their use and how to make that happen more effectively.

Researchers at the Tulane Prevention Research Center in New Orleans set up a multi-part study to examine this gap in the literature. This study was based on

  1. surveys with approximately 700 students in 7th to 12th grades, as well as school administrators and food service staff,
  2. direct observations in schools to assess food marketing elements, and
  3. 24-hour dietary recalls with students.

Main cafeteria line is primary source for student intake of fruit and vegetables at school1

To explore the sources of F&V students consumed via a 24-hour dietary recall, researchers used an interview-assisted web-based platform to report detailed information on all food and drink consumed within the previous 24-hour period. More than 700 students in New Orleans, at schools with and without salad bars, completed the dietary recalls.

  • Researchers found that overall, most students – 76% – ate some amount of F&V at lunch. Among those students, most of the F&V were from the school cafeteria main food line – 46% of students at schools with salad bars and 75% of students at schools without salad bars.
  • For all students, a sizeable proportion of total 24-hour fruit intake (17.5%) and vegetable intake (23.3%) was consumed during lunch.
  • In schools with salad bars, the students who used the salad bar ate more F&V overall than their counterparts who did not use the salad bar. The median intake of F&V from students who used the salad bar was higher (0.92 cups) than that of students whose F&V did not come from the salad bar (0.53 cups).
  • The study also found that 15% of students who participated in the study reported that they did not eat lunch in the past 24 hours.

Conclusions: Since students were getting most of their fruit and veggies from the main food line, they were not using the salad bar alone for lunch. With students consuming a sizeable portion of their daily fruit and vegetables during lunch, this suggests that school lunch is an important contributor to overall daily F&V intake. Unfortunately, some youth are not eating lunch at all, and, therefore, potentially missing essential nutrients. Schools need to be aware so that they can address this issue.

Students use school salad bars, but not equally2

A majority of the 700 New Orleans students surveyed (60%) reported eating from the salad bars in their schools. Not every student had the same results, though. Non-African-American students were twice as likely to use salad bars than African-American students. Researchers also examined students' food preferences and attitudes. Students who had a preference for healthy foods encouraged those around them to eat healthy foods, and those who encouraged their family and peers to eat healthy foods were more likely to eat from their schools' salad bars.

Conclusions: Schools might benefit from targeting specific factors, such as healthy food preferences to increase the use and success of their salad bars. Factors could include more nutrition education for students and increasing exposure to a variety of F&V at early ages.

Marketing of salad bars matter3

Students at secondary schools (also called high schools) in New Orleans with high levels of marketing for the salad bar were nearly three times more likely to use the salad bar compared to students at secondary schools with low levels of salad bar marketing. Among students in both elementary and secondary schools, females used salad bars more often than male students, and adolescents who preferred healthy foods also used them more frequently. Researchers also tracked the schools' environment and marketing practices through in-person visits. Examples of salad bar marketing efforts included signs posted throughout the school to promote the salad bar, notes to parents about the salad bar, and taste-testings of salad bar items. Conclusions: Schools should be encouraged to promote salad bars with signs and messaging and engage parents in their efforts to improve the school food environment, such as through newsletters or parent-teacher conferences.

Based on:

  1. Johnson C., Myers L., et al. (2017). "Lunch Salad Bars in New Orleans’ Middle and High Schools: Student Intake of Fruit and Vegetables." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 14(4): 415.
  2. Andersen L., Myers L., et al. (2015). "Adolescent Student Use of School-Based Salad Bars." Journal of School Health 85(10): 722-727.
  3. Spruance L.A., Myers L., et al. (2017). "Individual- and School-Level Factors Related to School-Based Salad Bar Use Among Children and Adolescents." Health Education & Behavior 44(6): 885-897.
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