2014

Love at first bite? Not for school kids and their vegetables


A new study from FSPH professor William McCarthy reveals that many school-provided fruits and vegetables are being discarded by LAUSD students.

students at a cafeteria
Photo courtesy of USDA

Cajoling, pleading, even blackmail — just a few of the tactics parents have used when their children refuse to eat vegetables they haven't tried before. Now it appears that the nation's second largest school district is facing the same problem.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves more than 650,000 meals each day, has become a national leader in offering healthy foods to its students. In September 2011, LAUSD launched a new lunch menu that features a variety of more wholesome food items, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, vegetarian items and a range of healthy ethnic foods.

Two months after the new menu was introduced, researchers from UCLA and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health wanted to understand how students were responding to the new offerings. Their research, conducted at four Los Angeles schools, found that many children didn't eat even a bite of the new, healthier items.

William McCarthy, a professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and colleagues, measured the quantities of food left unselected in cafeteria food lines and the amount of food left over on students' lunch trays. Almost 32 percent of students in the cafeteria lines did not select fruit, and almost 40 percent did not select vegetables. Among those who did select a fruit or vegetable, 22 percent threw away the fruit and 31 percent tossed vegetable items, without eating a single bite. Boys consistently threw away more fruit and vegetables away without tasting them than did girls.

The results appear in the current online edition of the journal Preventive Medicine.

"Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day is essential for optimal health, and implementing changes to school menus, as has been done by the LAUSD, is an important first step to increasing students' repertoire of acceptable fruits and vegetables," said McCarthy, the study's co-senior author. "But increasing students' consumption of fruits and vegetables is clearly a challenging task. Given the rising rates of obesity among children in this country, getting students to expand their range of acceptable fruits and vegetables is an important goal."

Information about production waste — the food prepared in the school kitchen and left over after all students had been served — was obtained using LAUSD electronic records maintained for breakfasts, snacks and lunches. Data on so-called plate waste — the food, plastic wrap and cardboard packages that students left on their plates — were collected each day for five consecutive days at each school from a total of more than 2,000 middle school students. Students were asked to leave their trays at one of two staffed stations, where the amount of waste was recorded, and researchers noted students' perceived gender and ethnicity. Food waste also was bagged and weighed.

McCarthy said it's important for students to be more receptive to eating fruits and vegetables — and not just by drinking fruit juice — and that they need to be "primed" to accept menu changes like the LAUSD's. One strategy that has been proven to be effective is engaging students in the effort, especially boys.

Among the researchers' recommendations:

  • Involving students in designing new menu options that use fruits and vegetables
  • Offering a greater variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from
  • Holding recess or physical education classes before lunch to increase
    students' level of physical activity and, in turn, their hunger for
    water-rich fruits and vegetables
  • Encouraging students to participate in a school-based gardening
    program
  • Implementing a marketing campaign to promote the new food itemshttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.04.013

"Given that children consume up to half of their daily nutrients in school, school foodservice departments can have a powerful influence on increasing students' liking for healthier foods," McCarthy said, adding that it can take eight to 12 tastings for children to overcome their initial dislike of a new vegetable.

"Schools need to be patient and tolerate some plate waste … but students will not expand their liking for fruits and vegetables if they don't at least taste the food," he said.

The idea of spending money on food that goes to waste can be a challenge for schools, but McCarthy said exposing all students, including those from poor families, to healthy eating practices is the more important societal goal. "Today's food waste is the forerunner to tomorrow's healthy eating and therefore is a worthwhile investment," he said.

Other authors on the study were Tony Kuo of UCLA, and Lauren Gase and Brenda Robles of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The analysis was conducted as part of program assessment activities at the LACDPH. Funding was also provided by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cooperative agreement (1U58DP002485-01) and a National Institutes of Health grant (1P50HL105188).


The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, founded in 1961, is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals from diverse backgrounds, translating research into policy and practice, and serving our local communities and the communities of the nation and the world. The school has 650 students from more than 35 nations engaged in carrying out the vision of "building healthy futures in greater Los Angeles, California, the nation and the world."

Faculty Referenced by this Article

Dr. William McCarthy
William J. McCarthy
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Tony Kuo
Tony Kuo
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Anne Coleman
Anne Coleman
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Emily Abel
Emily Abel
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Robert Kaplan
Robert Kaplan
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Jack Needleman
Jack Needleman
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Brian Bradbury
Brian Bradbury
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Lawrence Ash
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Akihiro Nishi Headshot
Akihiro Nishi
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Davidson - headshop
Pamela Davidson
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Leah Vriesman
Leah Vriesman
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Michael Ong
Michael Ong
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Samuel Sessions
Samuel Sessions
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Lillian Gelberg
Lillian Gelberg
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Onyebuchi Arah headshot
Onyebuchi A. Arah
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Stephanie Taylor
Stephanie L. Taylor

Nationally recognized health services researcher and sociomedical scientist with 25+ years' experience in effectiveness and implementation research.

Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Hashibe, Mia
Mia Hashibe
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Elizabeth Rose Mayeda photo
Elizabeth Rose Mayeda
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
silhoette
Ty Robbins
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang
Zuo-Feng Zhang
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Robert Kim-Farley
Robert J. Kim-Farley

Robert J. Kim-Farley, MD, MPH, is a Professor-in-Residence with joint appointments in the Departments of Epidemiology and Community Health Sciences

Community Health Sciences Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Mangione, C
Carol Mangione
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Anthony Schiff
Anthony Hunter Schiff
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Ralph R. Frerichs, 12/25/21
Ralph R. Frerichs
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Thomas Priselac
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Paul Hsu
Paul Hsu
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Aria Fallah
Aria Fallah
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Warren Scott Comulada
Warren Scott Comulada
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Jørn Olsen
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Noel Weiss
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Comanor, Bill
William Comanor
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Emily Beeler
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Laura Erskine
Laura Erskine
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh
Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Jose J. Escarce
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Julie A. Elginer

EMPH Academic Program Director with expertise in healthcare marketing, finance, and reproductive health policy, teaching in the EMPH, MPH, MHA program

Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Su Yong Jung
Su Yon Jung
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Paul Fu, Jr.
Paul Fu, Jr.
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Kenneth Wells
Kenneth Wells
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Anne Rimoin
Anne Rimoin
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Matthew Mimiaga
Matthew J. Mimiaga
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Paul Chung
Paul Chung
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Steven Teutsch
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Neal Halfon
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Bailley, Julia
Julia Bailey
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Haroutune Armenian
Haroutune Armenian
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Mark Litwin
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Olivia Jung
Olivia Jung
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Pamina Gorbach
Pamina Gorbach
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Elizabeth (Becky) Yano
Elizabeth (Becky) Yano
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Joann Elmore
Joann G. Elmore
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Patricia Ganz
Patricia Ganz
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Jennifer Wortham
Jennifer Wortham
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Dallas Swendeman
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Sung-Jae Lee
Sung-Jae Lee
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Freund, Deborah
Deborah Anne Freund
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Arturo Vargas Bustamante
Arturo Vargas Bustamante
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Balgrosky headshot
Jean Balgrosky
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Jian Li
Jian Li
Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Ondine S. von Ehrenstein
Community Health Sciences Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Vonthanak Saphonn
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Roberta Malmgren
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Galper, Michael
Michael Galper
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Beate Ritz
Beate Ritz
Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Susan Cochran
Susan Cochran
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Alan Tomines
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Risha Gidwani
Risha Gidwani
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Naomi Greene
Naomi Greene
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Amy Wohl
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Niklas Krause
Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
James Macinko
James Macinko

Professor of Community Health Sciences & Health Policy and Management, and Associate Dean for Research

Community Health Sciences Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Lori Pelliccioni
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Daniel Eisenberg
Daniel Eisenberg
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Jonathan Fielding
Jonathan Fielding
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Image of Dr. Susan Ettner
Susan Ettner
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Isomi Miake-Lye
Isomi Miake-Lye
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Ron Andersen

Dr. Ron Andersen is the Wasserman Professor Emeritus in the UCLA Departments of Health Policy and Management.

Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Ron D. Hays
Ron D. Hays

@UCLA since 1997

Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Vickie Mays
Vickie Mays
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Kelika Konda
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Gordon headshot
Thomas D. Gordon
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Nathan Wong
Nathan D. Wong
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Liwei Chen
Liwei Chen

Professor in Epidemiology

Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Teresa Ellen Seeman
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Alice Kuo
Alice Kuo
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Marissa J. Seamans
Marissa Seamans
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. John Lu
Z. John Lu
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Jody Heymann
Jody Heymann
Epidemiology Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Sander Greenland
Sander Greenland
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Paul Dluzniewski
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Michelle Keller
Michelle S. Keller

Dr. Michelle S. Keller is a health services researcher whose research focuses on the use and prescribing of high-risk medications.

Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Nina Harawa
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Clifford Ko
Clifford Ko
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Sangeeta Ahluwalia
Sangeeta Ahluwalia
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Paul Simon Headshot
Paul Simon
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Otoniel Martinez-Maza
Otoniel Martinez-Maza
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
DerSarkissian, Maral
Maral DerSarkissian
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Roch Nianogo
Roch A. Nianogo
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Xi Zhu
Xi Zhu
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Marjan Javanbakht
Marjan Javanbakht
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Beth Glenn
Beth Glenn
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Naomi Zewde
Naomi Zewde
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Burt Cowgill
Burt Cowgill
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Jian Yu Rao
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Corrina Moucheraud
Corrina Moucheraud
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Kadiyala, Srikanth
Srikanth Kadiyala
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
sheena sullivan photo
Sheena G. Sullivan
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Dvora Joseph Davey
Dvora Joseph Davey

Dr. Joseph Davey is an infectious disease epidemiologist with over 20 years' experience leading research on HIV/STI services for women and children.

Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Yusuke Tsugawa
Yusuke Tsugawa
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Woman dressed in blue and wearing pearls and eye glasses
Lisa V. Smith
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Yvonne Flores
Yvonne Flores
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Felicia Hodge
Felicia Hodge
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
David Hayes-Bautista
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Aziz, Najib headshot_2023
Najib Aziz
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Annette Regan
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Brennan Spiegel
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Julia Heck
Julia Heck
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Alexandra Binder Headshot
Alexandra Binder
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Peter R. Kerndt
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Diana Hilberman
Diana Hilberman
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Leeka I. Kheifets
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Annette Maxwell
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Thomas Rice
Thomas Rice
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Frank J. Sorvillo
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Barbara Berman
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Roshan Bastani Headshot
Roshan Bastani
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Jeanne Miranda
Jeanne Miranda
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Catherine Carpenter
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Emmeline Chuang
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Aronberg, Sandra
Sandra Aronberg
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Kristen Choi
Kristen Choi
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Gerald Kominski
Gerald Kominski
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Moira Inkelas
Moira Inkelas
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Avram Kaplan
Avram Kaplan
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Arlene Fink
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Karin Michels
Karin B. Michels
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Robert Brook
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Peter Katona
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Faculty/staff profile placeholder image
Nicole Hoff
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Ximena Vergara
Ximena Vergara
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Timothy Brewer
Timothy Brewer
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Rosenstock
Linda Rosenstock
Environmental Health Sciences Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Dylan Roby
Dylan Roby
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Jonathan Jacobs
Jonathan Jacobs
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Roger Detels
Roger Detels
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Frederick Zimmerman
Frederick Zimmerman
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Headshot
Christie Jeon
Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Ninez Ponce
Ninez Ponce
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile
Dr. Shira Shafir
Shira Shafir
Community Health Sciences Epidemiology
Read Faculty Profile
Nadereh Pourat
Nadereh Pourat
Health Policy and Management
Read Faculty Profile