CHICAGO — Childhood obesity is a national issue and many communities have looked to their schools for help. While schools are required to follow new federal guidelines for healthier lunch options, whether students are actually eating the healthier food provided and making healthier behavior changes have yet to be determined.
Preventive medicine experts at Rush University Medical Center and Canyon Ranch Institute have teamed up to design and test a new program that tracks what students are actually choosing to eat at school meals and supports parents and caregivers in helping their child achieve a healthy lifestyle. The program is called, “Healthy School Meals Realized through Technology (SMART) Schools.”
Sixth-grade students at the UNO Charter School Network’s Rufino Tamayo Charter School and Octavio Paz Charter School are participating in the unique new study where preventive medicine experts are using technology in the school cafeterias to track what each student eats during breakfast and lunch. Each week, parents and teachers receive a comprehensive report on the nutritional value of their child’s school meals along with healthy eating recommendations for each student.
The pilot program, launched in April 2014, is an innovative collaboration between Rush, Canyon Ranch Institute and the UNO Charter School Network with input from the City of Chicago. The Hillshire Brands Company awarded $200,000 to fund the pilot program. A+ Café, a school nutrition software company, helped develop the technology system for the study.
“Most Chicago school parents receive a monthly cafeteria menu of what meals will be offered for breakfast and lunch for their child,” said Brad Appelhans, PhD, associate professor of preventive medicine at Rush and a principal investigators of the study. “However, parents and teachers are generally unaware of what their children or student actually eat at school or how this fits into their overall diet and what they eat outside of school.”