1. Lutein, found in leafy greens, may counter cognitive aging

    August 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

    The study, which included 60 adults aged 25 to 45, found that middle-aged participants with higher levels of lutein — a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as avocados and eggs — had neural responses that were more on par with younger individuals than with their peers. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

    “Now there’s an additional reason to eat nutrient-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, eggs and avocados,” said Naiman Khan, a professor of kinesiology and community health at Illinois. “We know these foods are related to other health benefits, but these data indicate that there may be cognitive benefits as well.”

    Most other studies have focused on older adults, after there has already been a period of decline. The Illinois researchers chose to focus on young to middle-aged adults to see whether there was a notable difference between those with higher and lower lutein levels.

    “As people get older, they experience typical decline. However, research has shown that this process can start earlier than expected. You can even start to see some differences in the 30s,” said Anne Walk, a postdoctoral scholar and first author of the paper. “We want to understand how diet impacts cognition throughout the lifespan. If lutein can protect against decline, we should encourage people to consume lutein-rich foods at a point in their lives when it has maximum benefit.”

    Lutein is a nutrient that the body can’t make on its own, so it must be acquired through diet. Lutein accumulates in brain tissues, but also accumulates in the eye, which allows researchers to measure levels without relying on invasive techniques.

    The Illinois researchers measured lutein in the study participants’ eyes by having participants look into a scope and respond to a flickering light. Then, using electrodes on the scalp, the researchers measured neural activity in the brain while the participants performed a task that tested attention.

    “The neuro-electrical signature of older participants with higher levels of lutein looked much more like their younger counterparts than their peers with less lutein,” Walk said. “Lutein appears to have some protective role, since the data suggest that those with more lutein were able to engage more cognitive resources to complete the task.”

    Next, Khan’s group is running intervention trials, aiming to understand how increased dietary consumption of lutein may increase lutein in the eye, and how closely the levels relate to changes in cognitive performance.

    “In this study we focused on attention, but we also would like to understand the effects of lutein on learning and memory. There’s a lot we are very curious about,” Khan said.


  2. Study examines how branding and prices influence children’s decisions about snack purchases

    August 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus press release:

    What determines how children decide to spend their cash on snacks? A new study shows that children’s experience with money and their liking of brands influenced purchase decisions — and that for some children, higher prices for unhealthy snacks might motivate healthier choices. The study is published in the journal Appetite.

    Besides parents, many actors such as schools, governments and food manufacturers influence and modify the consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor snack food among children through a multitude of venues such as parental guidance and restriction of such foods and snacks available to children at home, school programs (school lunch and vending machines), governmental mandates (taxation, nutrition education campaigns) and marketing messages.

    Researchers co-led by Professors Monika Hartmann from the University of Bonn and Sean Cash from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University studied the ways that children aged 8 to 11 use their own disposable income, predominantly an allowance provided by a parent, to purchase snack food on their own. In the study, they report that brand awareness was not necessarily aligned with preference of snack foods. Importantly, the extent of children’s experience with money influenced their purchase decisions, suggesting that higher prices for unhealthy snacks might be helpful in motivating at least those children that have experience with money to choose healthier options.

    The research took place in after-school programs in the Boston area with a sample of 116 children ages 8 to 11 years. The study consisted of a survey, two cognitive tests, and a discrete choice experiment (DCE). The participants were paid $2.00 each as compensation after completing the cognitive tests that they could then spend in the DCE part of the study.

    “We don’t know much about how kids spend their cash on snacks,” said corresponding author Sean Cash, Ph.D., economist and associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “It’s an understudied area. Currently, many children have their own disposable income, usually an allowance. They’re deciding how to spend that money on snacks, but we know very little about how they make those decisions.” This is especially true with respect to the extent to which children assess typical consumer tradeoffs regarding price and other food attributes.

    Cookies, apple slices, or yogurt

    The researchers presented a series of snack options to the children — cookies, apple slices, and tubes of yogurt. Each child was presented ten times with pairs of photographs of two snack items that differed by product type, price and brand. Each time they could select one of the two products or decide to make no choice.

    The child was told that at the end of the experiment, one choice would be drawn at random from the ten decisions the child made and the child would be obligated to purchase the chosen snack. The child had to pay the stated price of that choice, which ranged between $0.30 and $0.70, from the money previously earned in the study and they received the designated snack. This feature of the design made each choice more realistic for the kids. One group of snacks was from McDonald’s in order to test the importance of branding on children’s choices.

    Experience with money makes a difference

    Children made choices based primarily on food types (cookie, apple slices, yogurt). In the experiment, children most often chose the chocolate-chip cookies, with apple slices in second place. Other results were surprising.

    “What we found is that brand awareness was not a key factor in purchasing the snacks. What mattered more is a child’s like or dislike the brand,” said first author Monika Hartmann, Ph.D., who was a visiting scholar at the Friedman School while the study was being conducted. She is based at the Institute of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Bonn.

    The other important result was a distinct dichotomy with respect to how price affected the children’s purchase decision. Children who were used to receiving an allowance from their parents paid attention to the price, whereas those who had little experience handling money generally did not. This result supports research that suggests experience with cash is an important aspect of learning what prices mean.

    “Overall, the literature on children’s price responsiveness and brand awareness is scarce,” the authors wrote in their article. “The former is especially true for younger children (elementary school).” At the same time, they observed that children spend a considerable amount of money on snacks while childhood incidence of chronic dietary-related disease (type-2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and obesity) is high and increasing around the world.

    The authors point out that this is a small study, regionally biased, and with limited choices within the experiment. They suggest further research to explore the efficacy of using price and presentation (e.g., packaging, branding) as additional tools in the fight against the growing incidence of chronic disease among children. Their work was supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) with additional support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


  3. High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

    August 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon Health & Science University press release:

    A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact on offspring behavior. The new study links an unhealthy diet during pregnancy to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in children.

    “Given the high level of dietary fat consumption and maternal obesity in developed nations, these findings have important implications for the mental health of future generations,” the researchers report.

    The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.

    The study, led by Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, tested the effect of a maternal high-fat diet on nonhuman primates, tightly controlling their diet in a way that would be impossible in a human population. The study revealed behavioral changes in the offspring associated with impaired development of the central serotonin system in the brain. Further, it showed that introducing a healthy diet to the offspring at an early age failed to reverse the effect.

    Previous observational studies in people correlated maternal obesity with a range of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The new research demonstrates for the first time that a high-fat diet, increasingly common in the developed world, caused long-lasting mental health ramifications for the offspring of non-human primates.

    In the United States, 64 percent of women of reproductive age are overweight and 35 percent are obese. The new study suggests that the U.S. obesity epidemic may be imposing transgenerational effects.

    “It’s not about blaming the mother,” said Sullivan, senior author on the study. “It’s about educating pregnant women about the potential risks of a high-fat diet in pregnancy and empowering them and their families to make healthy choices by providing support. We also need to craft public policies that promote healthy lifestyles and diets.”

    Researchers grouped a total of 65 female Japanese macaques into two groups, one given a high-fat diet and one a control diet during pregnancy. They subsequently measured and compared anxiety-like behavior among 135 offspring and found that both males and females exposed to a high-fat diet during pregnancy exhibited greater incidence of anxiety compared with those in the control group. The scientists also examined physiological differences between the two groups, finding that exposure to a high-fat diet during gestation and early in development impaired the development of neurons containing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s critical in developing brains.

    The new findings suggest that diet is at least as important as genetic predisposition to neurodevelopmental disorders such as anxiety or depression, said an OHSU pediatric psychiatrist who was not involved in the research.

    “I think it’s quite dramatic,” said Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine. “A lot of people are going to be astonished to see that the maternal diet has this big of an effect on the behavior of the offspring. We’ve always looked at the link between obesity and physical diseases like heart disease, but this is really the clearest demonstration that it’s also affecting the brain.”

    Sullivan and research assistant and first author Jacqueline Thompson said they believe the findings provide evidence that mobilizing public resources to provide healthy food and pre- and post-natal care to families of all socioeconomic classes could reduce mental health disorders in future generations.

    “My hope is that increased public awareness about the origins of neuropsychiatric disorders can improve our identification and management of these conditions, both at an individual and societal level,” Thompson said.


  4. Mediterranean-style diets linked to better brain function in older adults

    August 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Geriatrics Society press release:

    Eating foods included in two healthy diets — the Mediterranean or the MIND diet — is linked to a lower risk for memory difficulties in older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

    The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, nuts, olive oil and fish. Processed foods, fried and fast foods, snack foods, red meat, poultry and whole-fat dairy foods are infrequently eaten on the Mediterranean diet.

    The MIND diet is a version of the Mediterranean diet that includes 15 types of foods. Ten are considered “brain-healthy:” green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil, and wine. Five are considered unhealthy: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried/fast foods.

    Researchers examined information from 5,907 older adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. The participants filled out questionnaires about their eating habits. Researchers then measured the participants’ cognitive abilities — mostly on their memory and attention skills.

    The researchers compared the diets of participants to their performance on the cognitive tests. They found that older people who ate Mediterranean and MIND-style diets scored significantly better on the cognitive function tests than those who ate less healthy diets. In fact, older people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet had 35% lower risk of scoring poorly on cognitive tests. Even those who ate a moderate Mediterranean-style diet had 15% lower risk of doing poorly on cognitive tests. The researchers noted similar results for people who ate MIND-style diets.

    This study suggests that eating Mediterranean and MIND-style diets is linked to better overall cognitive function in older adults, said the researchers. What’s more, older adults who followed these healthy diets had lower risks for having cognitive impairment in later life, noted the researchers.


  5. Study examines link between job stress, junk food and sleep

    July 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    Stress during the workday can lead to overeating and unhealthy food choices at dinnertime, but there could be a buffer to this harmful pattern.

    A good night’s sleep can serve as a protecting factor between job stress and unhealthy eating in the evening, indicates a new study co-authored by a Michigan State University scholar.

    The study, published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology, is one of the first to investigate how psychological experiences at work shape eating behaviors.

    “We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food,” said Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author.

    “However, another key finding showed how sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating after work,” she added. “When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day.”

    The research involved two studies of 235 total workers in China. One study dealt with information-technology employees who regularly experienced high workload and felt there was never enough time in the workday. The second study involved call-center workers who often got stressed from having to deal with rude and demanding customers.

    In both cases, workday stress was linked to employees’ negative mood while on the job, which in turn was linked to unhealthy eating in the evening, said Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois.

    The study proposed two potential explanations, Liu said.

    “First, eating is sometimes used as an activity to relieve and regulate one’s negative mood, because individuals instinctually avoid aversive feelings and approach desire feelings,” he said. “Second, unhealthy eating can also be a consequence of diminished self-control. When feeling stressed out by work, individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control over their cognitions and behaviors to be aligned with personal goals and social norms.”

    Chang said the finding that sleep protects against unhealthy eating following workday stress shows how the health behaviors are related.

    “A good night’s sleep can make workers replenished and feel vigorous again, which may make them better able to deal with stress at work the next day and less vulnerable to unhealthy eating,” she said.

    To address the problem, companies should emphasize the importance of health management for their employees and consider sleep-awareness training and flexible scheduling.

    Companies should also reconsider the value of food-related job perks, which have become very common.

    “Food-related perks may only serve as temporary mood-altering remedies for stressed employees,” Chang said, “and failure to address the sources of the work stress may have potential long-term detrimental effects on employee health.”


  6. Extra-virgin olive oil preserves memory, protects brain against Alzheimer’s

    July 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Temple University Health System press release:

    The Mediterranean diet, rich in plant-based foods, is associated with a variety of health benefits, including a lower incidence of dementia. Now, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) have identified a specific ingredient that protects against cognitive decline: extra-virgin olive oil, a major component of the Mediterranean diet. In a study published online June 21 in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, the researchers show that the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil protects memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain — classic markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

    The Temple team also identified the mechanisms underlying the protective effects of extra-virgin olive oil. “We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy,” explained senior investigator Domenico Praticò, MD, Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and the Center for Translational Medicine at LKSOM. Autophagy is the process by which cells break down and clear out intracellular debris and toxins, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.

    “Brain cells from mice fed diets enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had higher levels of autophagy and reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau,” Dr. Praticò said. The latter substance, phosphorylated tau, is responsible for neurofibrillary tangles, which are suspected of contributing to the nerve cell dysfunction in the brain that is responsible for Alzheimer’s memory symptoms.

    Previous studies have suggested that the widespread use of extra-virgin olive oil in the diets of people living in the Mediterranean areas is largely responsible for the many health benefits linked to the Mediterranean diet. “The thinking is that extra-virgin olive oil is better than fruits and vegetables alone, and as a monounsaturated vegetable fat it is healthier than saturated animal fats,” according to Dr. Praticò.

    In order to investigate the relationship between extra-virgin olive oil and dementia, Dr. Praticò and colleagues used a well-established Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Known as a triple transgenic model, the animals develop three key characteristics of the disease: memory impairment, amyloid plagues, and neurofibrillary tangles.

    The researchers divided the animals into two groups, one that received a chow diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil and one that received the regular chow diet without it. The olive oil was introduced into the diet when the mice were six months old, before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to emerge in the animal model.

    In overall appearance, there was no difference between the two groups of animals. However, at age 9 months and 12 months, mice on the extra virgin olive oil-enriched diet performed significantly better on tests designed to evaluate working memory, spatial memory, and learning abilities.

    Studies of brain tissue from both groups of mice revealed dramatic differences in nerve cell appearance and function.

    “One thing that stood out immediately was synaptic integrity,” Dr. Praticò said. The integrity of the connections between neurons, known as synapses, were preserved in animals on the extra-virgin olive oil diet. In addition, compared to mice on a regular diet, brain cells from animals in the olive oil group showed a dramatic increase in nerve cell autophagy activation, which was ultimately responsible for the reduction in levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.

    “This is an exciting finding for us,” explained Dr. Praticò. “Thanks to the autophagy activation, memory and synaptic integrity were preserved, and the pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease were significantly reduced. This is a very important discovery, since we suspect that a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.”

    Dr. Praticò and colleagues plan next to investigate the effects of introducing extra-virgin olive oil into the diet of the same mice at 12 months of age, when they have already developed plaques and tangles. “Usually when a patient sees a doctor for suspected symptoms of dementia, the disease is already present,” Dr. Praticò added. “We want to know whether olive oil added at a later time point in the diet can stop or reverse the disease.”


  7. Study suggests gut-based treatments for autism

    July 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Experts have called for large-scale studies into altering the make-up of bacteria in the gut, after a review showed that this might reduce the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Until now, caregivers have relied on rehabilitation, educational interventions and drugs to reduce ASD symptoms, but now researchers suggest that treating this condition could be as simple as changing their diet.

    A review of more than 150 papers on ASD and gut bacteria found that since the 1960s, scientists have been reporting links between the composition of bacteria in the gut and autistic behaviour. The review highlights many studies showing that restoring a healthy balance in gut bacteria can treat ASD symptoms.

    “To date there are no effective therapies to treat this range of brain developmental disorders,” explains Dr Qinrui Li of Peking University, China. “The number of people being diagnosed with ASD is on the rise. As well as being an expensive condition to manage, ASD has a huge emotional and social cost on families of sufferers.”

    The link between the gut and ASD is well-known among sufferers: problems like diarrhea, constipation and flatulence are commonly reported. The root of gastro-intestinal problems like these is an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut.

    A cheap and effective treatment?

    Many of the papers reviewed support the idea of a gut-brain axis — a way in which factors in the gut can affect processes in the brain. So these gastro-intestinal problems may have a more sinister side. The overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut inevitably leads to an overproduction of by-products — including toxins. These can make the gut lining more permeable. Then toxins, by-products and even undigested food can get into the bloodstream and travel to the brain.

    In a child under three years old, whose brain is at the height of development, the presence of these chemicals can impair neuro-development, leading to ASD.

    What causes infants to develop an imbalance in the gut microbiota?

    “ASD is likely to be a result of both genetic and environmental factors” explains Dr Li. “The environmental factors include the overuse of antibiotics in babies, maternal obesity and diabetes during pregnancy, how a baby is delivered and how long it is breastfed. All of these can affect the balance of bacteria in an infant’s gut, so are risk factors for ASD.”

    However, the researchers found a significant body of evidence that reverting the gut microbiota to a healthy state can reduce ASD symptoms.

    “Efforts to restore the gut microbiota to that of a healthy person has been shown to be really effective” continues Dr Li. “Our review looked at taking probiotics, prebiotics, changing the diet — for example, to gluten- and casein-free diets, and faecal matter transplants. All had a positive impact on symptoms .”

    These include such things as increased sociability, a reduction in repetitive behaviour, and improved social communication: all hugely beneficial to the life of an ASD sufferer.

    The message of this review is one of positivity. This could well be a breakthrough in the treatment of this disorder. However, the researchers believe that the studies are too few and too small, and that new clinical trials are needed to take this research to the next level.

    “We are encouraged by our findings, but there is no doubt that further work needs to be carried out in this field” says Dr Li. “We need more well-designed and larger-scale studies to support our theory. For now, behavioural therapies remain the best way to treat ASD. We would hope that our review leads to research on the link between the gut microbiota and ASD, and eventually a cheap and effective treatment.”


  8. Poor adolescent diet may influence brain and behavior in adulthood

    July 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Neuroscience press release:

    Adolescent male mice fed a diet lacking omega-3 fatty acids show increased anxiety-like behavior and worse performance on a memory task in adulthood, according to new research published in The Journal of Neuroscience. The study suggests adequate nutrition in adolescence is important for the refinement of the adult brain and behavior.

    The structure and function of the brain continue to change throughout adolescence, at the same time that teenagers gain increasing independence and begin to make their own food choices. Since high-calorie, low-quality diets tend to be more affordable than healthy ones, teenagers may opt for foods that lack key nutrients important for brain health such as omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs), which cannot be produced by the human body and must be obtained from foods such as fish and vegetables.

    Oliver Manzoni and colleagues fed mice a balanced diet until early adolescence, when some mice were switched to a diet lacking n-3 PUFAs. Mice fed the poor diet during adolescence had reduced levels of n-3 PUFA in the medial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens in adulthood compared to control mice. The low-quality diet impaired the brain’s ability to fine-tune connections between neurons in these regions.


  9. Computer game could help children choose healthy food

    May 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    A simple brain-training game could help children choose healthy snacks instead of chocolate and sweets, according to a new study.

    Children who played a seven-minute game devised by University of Exeter psychologists made healthier choices when asked to pick foods afterwards.

    The game involves reacting to images of healthy food by pressing a button, and doing nothing if unhealthy foods are shown.

    “The sight of foods like chocolate can activate reward centres in the brain at the same time as reducing activity in self-control areas,” said Lucy Porter, the lead researcher on the project.

    Our training encourages people to make a new association — when they see unhealthy food, they stop.

    “Many health promotion schemes rely on education and willpower and require a lot of time, staff and money, but our game potentially sidesteps these issues by creating a free, easy tool for families to use at home.

    “The research is at an early stage and we need to investigate whether our game can shift dietary habits in the long-term, but we think it could make a useful contribution.”

    The researchers ran two experiments, and in total more than 200 schoolchildren aged 4-11 were shown images of healthy and unhealthy foods.

    Alongside each image was a cartoon face — happy for healthy food, sad for unhealthy food.

    Children had to hit the spacebar when they saw a happy face, and do nothing if they saw a sad face — they were not told that the game had anything to do with healthy or unhealthy food.

    Afterwards, they played a shopping game where they had to choose a limited number of food items in one minute.

    “We didn’t see a total turnaround in favour of choosing healthy options, but these increased from about 30% of foods chosen to over 50% in children who did the brain training,” said Porter.

    Age did not affect whether the game worked or not, meaning that children as young as four can benefit from playing.

    Meanwhile children in control groups — who were shown happy and sad faces mixed evenly between healthy and unhealthy foods, or images which were not food-related at all — showed no change in food choices.

    Similar research by the study’s senior author, Dr Natalia Lawrence, has already led to the creation of an app which helps adults avoid unhealthy foods and lose weight.

    “It’s encouraging to see that this simple computer game has the potential to improve food choices in young children as well as in adults” she said.

    “As we all know, it’s incredibly important to encourage healthy eating habits from a young age; children in the UK eat on average three times too much sugar and not enough fruit and vegetables.

    “This game is one simple and relatively fun way of trying to redress the balance.”

    Porter added: “This easy game does all the hard work for you. It’s not about learning anything consciously, it’s about working with automatic responses.

    She acknowledges that some people might feel uneasy about this, but she explains: “Playing this game is optional — unlike the constant stream of advertising designed to brainwash children.

    “This game won’t eliminate the effect of junk food advertising or price promotions, but it might give people a little bit of control back.”


  10. Study suggests timing and duration of school lunch and recess related to food choices and physical activity

    May 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Experimental Biology 2017 press release:

    A new study finds that the duration and timing of lunch and recess is related to food choices and physical activity of school children. These findings could help schools make policies that promote healthier school lunches and increased physical activity during recess.

    Gabriella McLoughlin, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will present the new research at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.

    “Most research has focused solely on nutritional intake or physical activity during recess,” said Naiman Khan, PhD, assistant professor and leader of the research team. “This is the first study to objectively measure food intake at lunch in conjunction with physical activity and consider the influence of duration and timing.”

    For the study, the researchers assessed the lunch intake and physical activity of 151 fourth and fifth grade students from two low-income schools. Each school scheduled lunch either just before or immediately after recess.

    The researchers found that:

    • Although less food was wasted when recess was held before lunch, children consumed a greater proportion of vegetables when lunch was offered before recess.
    • When children had a longer time for a combined lunch and recess period, children were proportionally more physically active when lunch was offered before recess.
    • When the lunch-recess period was shorter, children were more active when recess was offered before lunch.

    “Overall, our findings suggest that recess and lunch behaviors are interrelated,” said McLoughlin. “However, the specific food choices and activity levels children engage in may be subject to the timing and duration of lunch and recess.” The relationships between food intake at lunch and physical activity were independent of factors previously shown to contribute to recess activity such as a child’s weight status and gender.

    The current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend scheduling recess before lunch to reduce overall food waste. Although the new study also showed reduced food waste when recess is before lunch, the findings suggest that current recommendations may have unintended consequences for the types of foods consumed and could affect physical activity during recess, depending on the duration of the recess-lunch period.

    “We plan to communicate our findings to school teachers, administrators and policymakers to facilitate the implementation of evidence-based policies that support children’s ability to meet their daily physical activity and nutritional recommendations,” said Khan.

    Now that the researchers have extensive data on children’s physical activity patterns and lunch choices, the investigators are seeking federal funding to create feasible and sustainable school interventions based on their findings. They would also like to study whether policies regarding lunch and recess affect risk for obesity, success in academics and other markers of cognitive development in children.