The research, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, looked at 1,001 students in six schools with lunch periods of between 20 and 30 minutes. Among students provided with free school lunches, they found a clear link between the time available to eat and the students’ food choices and consumption.
“Overall, students were significantly less likely to select a fruit if they had <20 minutes to eat their meal compared with having at least 25 minutes (44.4% vs 57.3%). Similarly, selection of fruits was significantly lower when students had between 20 and 24 minutes to eat compared with when students had at least 25 minutes (46.9% vs 57.3%),” wrote the authors.
Five more minutes
While students’ choice of vegetable and main meal were not affected by the duration of the lunch period, the researchers found those with less than 20 minutes to eat consumed around 13% less of their entrees, 12% less of their vegetable dish, and 10% less milk than those with just five minutes more time.
“Policies that enable students to have at least 25 minutes of seated time might lead to improvements in students’ diets and decrease plate waste in school cafeterias,” the authors concluded. They noted it was also important to address factors such as queuing time and students’ desire and need to socialise.
The researchers used data gathered as part of the MEALS study, a major investigation into food consumption at schools between 2011 and 2012 in Massachusetts, covering children in grades three to eight (classes including children aged approximately eight to 14). They looked at data from the six control schools in the study which had fixed lunch periods, in order to address the lack of research on the relationship between lunch duration and food consumption.
Students felt rushed
“In a survey of school cafeteria managers, 44% of respondents reported that students did not have enough time to eat, which they believed resulted in increased plate waste. Similarly, surveys of students have found that a high percentage felt rushed at lunch and report insufficient time to eat their meal,” the authors wrote.
“Consuming food too quickly is associated with adverse gastrointestinal hormone responses to the meal and with decreased perceived satiety post consumption, which can increase the risk of overweight,” they added.
Calling for additional research, the authors said: “Future studies examining whether time to eat is still associated with decreased fruit selection, given that the updated standards require students select a fruit or vegetable, and how this impacts overall consumption are warranted.”
Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.019
“Amount of Time to Eat Lunch Is Associated with Children’s Selection and Consumption of School Meal Entrée, Fruits, Vegetables, and Milk”
Authors: J. F. W. Cohen; J. L. Jahn; S. Richardson; S. A. Cluggish; E Parker; E. B. Rimm