Given too little time for lunch, students will just shove down what they can then throw the rest of their meal away, Harvard researchers have found.
Project Bread and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health collaborated to take a look at lunch periods to determine just how much of an effect a short shot clock has on students.
The findings of their study, MEALS (Modifying Eating and Lifestyles at School), was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The researchers looked at 1,001 students in six elementary and middle schools in low-income areas of Massachusetts, analyzing their choice of food and how much of it was left after their 20- to 30-minute lunch periods had ended.
Students in the group that had no more than 20 minutes to put away their lunches ate about 13 percent less of their entrees than the group with 25 minutes or more, the researchers found. Those with limited time also consumed 12 percent less vegetables and 10 percent less milk. All of that was with just a difference of five more minutes to eat, which shocked the researchers, according to Eric Rimm, study lead and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Chan.
"We were surprised by some of the results because I expected that with less time children may quickly eat their entree and drink their milk, but throw away all of their fruits and vegetables," said Rimm. "Not so—we found they got a start on everything, but couldn't come close to finishing with less time to eat."
The researchers also found that some students only had about 10 minutes to eat something after having to wait in line or showing up late. While extending the lunch time may not be possible for all schools, the researchers advocated finding new ways to help students get the most of what is, in so many cases, the only full meals they'll have a chance to eat in a day.
"Every school day the National School Lunch Program helps to feed over 30 million children in 100,000 schools across the U.S., yet little research has been done in this field," said Rimm.