School Lunch ‘Lab’ Reveals Promising Results

November 06, 2008

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

In August 2006, the New York Times magazine featured an article by Lisa Belkin about a program funded by the Agaston Research Foundation, founded in 2004 by Dr. Arthur Agaston, creator of the South Beach Diet. The article explained:

Having tackled the eating habits of obese adults, Agatston has turned his attention to children. A cardiologist who considers himself a scientist and who just happened to become a wealthy minicelebrity, Agatston is using the cafeterias of the Osceola County School District as a clinical laboratory. There are 19 elementary schools in the district, and the Agatston Foundation started by taking control of the menus at 4 of them, all within Kissimmee. They are testing whether a plan he calls HOPS — Healthier Options for Public Schoolchildren — can measurably affect children's health.

Not only was Agatston’s foundation bringing fresh, locally produced, low-fat, high-fiber food to the lunchroom, it was also funding exercise programs, nutrition-education programs and teacher-training programs. And it was conducting this as one would a clinical trial, aiming for scientific data on whether these changes made any measurable difference at all.

Recently Belkin returned with some preliminary results from the study. The data show that students who participated in the HOPS program were more likely to have reduced their weight and body mass index and had higher scores on state math tests than the “control” students in the study.

For those of us who work with students and have seen first-hand the connection that exists between student health and learning, these results come as no surprise. We hope this will serve as an important foundation for a growing body of evidence of this connection. 
 
P.S. – OK, I have to admit to having saved that August 2006 issue of the New York Times magazine, thinking that it would serve as a good reminder to follow up and find out the results from this program.  Maybe it’s time to clean out the other dog-eared gems that live at the bottom of my magazine basket and move to an electronic reminder system?