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A+ Nutrition: The Benefits of Nutrition Report Cards

“Nutrition Report Cards” that detail lunch purchases can encourage at-home conversations about health and lead to improved food selection in students

“Nutrition Report Cards” that detail lunch purchases can encourage at-home conversations about health and lead to improved food selection in students

In order to effectively encourage healthy choices, schools can implement nutrition report cards that allow parents to see what their kids are eating at school

The main effect of nutrition report cards was opening up a conversation about nutrition between parents and kids, which led to kids making healthier choices

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Wansink, Brian, David R. Just, Richard W. Patterson, and Laura E. Smith. (2013). Nutrition Report Cards: An Opportunity to Improve School Lunch Selection. PLOS ONE, 8(10), e72008. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072008

Parents can easily assess their child’s performance in school through academic report cards—but what about their kid’s choices in the cafeteria? Accurate records of what foods students buy at lunch –“Nutrition Report Cards”— could give caregivers an inside look at lunchroom behaviors. According to Cornell researchers Brian Wansink, David Just (Co-Founders of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement), Richard Patterson, and Laura Smith, even without any evaluation or grade based upon the nutrition of purchases, Nutrition Report Cards could inspire conversations about health and improve students’ lunch choices.

The parents of 35 students, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, signed up to receive Nutrition Report Cards for their kids every day for five weeks via email. To create the records, researchers added three buttons to the school district’s computerized registers so that cashiers could easily record the purchase of 1) Fruit/Vegetable items, 2) Starchy sides, and 3) White Milk. The registers also had pre-existing buttons that recorded a-la-carte items by name (such as cookies, chips, or ice cream), so those snacks were also able to appear in reports.

After the Nutrition Report Cards were implemented, participating students bought significantly fewer cookies than they had in previous weeks. They also bought fruits and vegetables more frequently and purchased flavored milk less often, though those results were not statistically significant.

Why exactly did students make better choices when their parents received these Report Cards? Post-intervention surveys revealed that most parents saw the Nutrition Report Cards as an opportunity to talk to their children about nutrition. Because their kids were aware that their parents could observe their food purchases, the adults felt comfortable starting conversations about nutritional choices.

These Nutrition Report Cards can be implemented and maintained with very little additional time on behalf of the school. According to the researchers, the initial programming of a computer to record such categories as Fruits/Vegetables, Starches, and White Milk requires just one hour. The actual use of the buttons to record purchases, however, only takes an additional 0.16 seconds per transaction, making Nutrition Report Cards a quick and simple way to spark important conversations about nutrition. 

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