How to get students to eat from school salad bars? It’s all in the marketing, study finds

PROVO, Utah — While the widespread implementation of salad bars in schools throughout the U.S. is a good start to teaching children about healthy lifestyles, getting kids to eat from them is an entirely different matter.

A new study, however, finds schools may want to employ an effective strategy: using aggressive marketing tactics.

A recent nationwide initiative called Let’s Move Salad Bars to School has tried to make salad bars more ubiquitous. The movement estimates that there are now about 4,800 salad bars in public schools nationwide, and that half of American high schools have one.

salad bar
A new study finds that the key to schoolchildren eating from salad bars is more aggressive marketing.

The salad bar movement for American schoolchildren took center stage with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative launched in 2010. The former First Lady sought to make salad bars ubiquitous for schools — despite pushback from students themselves.

That resistance has led many to wonder what is necessary to get children excited not just about having access to salad bars in school — but about eating from them, too.

“The value of a salad bar program depends on whether students actually use the salad bar,” says lead researcher Lori Spruance in a BYU release. “Few studies have examined how to make that happen more effectively.”

Researchers at Brigham Young University hoped to discover the answer by studying the salad bar usage of students at 12 New Orleans-area public schools. They were able to document the students’ behavior through both personal observation and administering surveys.

Their main finding that superior marketing increased usage of the salad bar against alternatives found itself manifested in a number of forms.

Better advertising was considered to include: signage on the school’s campus advertising the salad bar; info on the bar’s offerings in printed materials; and promoting the bar in the school’s online presence.

Ultimately, the use of these and similar efforts were found to increase a given student’s use of their school’s salad bar threefold.

“It takes a lot of effort and time, but most children and adolescents require repeated exposures to food before they will eat them on their own,” Spruance says.

Still, while salad bars may help adolescents with consuming the right amount of fruits and vegetables, the onus is still on parents, Spruance argues. “If a child is being exposed to foods at home that are served at school, the child may be more likely to eat those fruits or vegetables at school,” she explains.

Previous studies have shown that students are more likely to eat from a salad bar if it’s not sectioned off from the normal serving line.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Health Education and Behavior.


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