A study published in the latest issue of Preventive Medicine found that when recess is held right before lunch instead of immediately after, the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten by students increases by more than 50%.

The NYT's KJ Dell'Antonia has more details at Motherlode:

Research has long suggested that students who have recess before lunch rather than after waste less food. A newly published study gets more specific: Students purchasing a national school lunch are required to take either a serving of fruit or vegetables with their lunch. The researchers, David Just of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and Joseph Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University, observed students at seven schools. three of which moved lunch to after recess and four of which continued to serve lunch before recess. Students at the schools that made the change increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by 54 percent and increased the fraction of children eating at least one serving of fruits or vegetables by 45 percent. Moving recess appeared to make a difference.

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This isn't the first study to suggest that scheduling recess before lunch could have a positive impact on the quality and quantity of foods that kids eat, yet the vast majority of U.S. elementary schools continue to hold recess after students have eaten. (According to a 2001 of school health policies and programs, 4.6% [!] of U.S. elementary schools schedule recess before lunch.) A study published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management lists the barriers most frequently mentioned by administrators:

a) preservation of morning hours for academics; b) logistical concerns of supervision, hand washing, and cold weather clothing [An example, from the National Education Association: "critics question critics question when, in the rush from playground to cafeteria, students can wash their hands, as well as what to do with coats, gloves, and galoshes after playing." ā€“ Ed.]; c) possible resistance by faculty, staff, and parents; and d) tradition.

School nutrition personnel:

a) supervision; b) movement of children on and off the playground; c) scheduling; and d) cold weather clothing.

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Teachers:

a) logistics; b) academic priorities; c) willingness of administrators; d) exercise; e) weather; f) scheduling blocks; and g) tradition.

And parents:

a) logistical concerns, such as scheduling, staffing, and space; b) winter clothing; c) nutrition beliefs; d) previous experiences with a family member; e) tradition; f) behavior; and g) communication.

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The National Education Association lists another reason that I didn't see mentioned in the 2006 study, namely that "delaying lunch also puts additional strain on students from low-income families who often do not eat breakfast."

My gut is that scheduling recess after lunch is mostly a case of cutting the end off the family ham, but gut feelings don't carry a lot of weight (or, at least, shouldn't carry a lot of weight) when it comes to sweeping changes in policy. That said, it seems clear that Just and Price's findings should, at a minimum, spur more and bigger real-world studies into the effects of scheduling on kids' nutrition.

Read the full study in the latest issue of Preventive Medicine.

Image Credit: Price & Just, Preventative Medicine, 2014 | CC BY-NC 2.0

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