Yesterday, I shared with you some new and troubling revelations published in BuzzFeed News about the integrity of the data underlying the USDA’s Smarter Lunchrooms program, which is the brainchild of Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.
Today, I wanted to share something here on The Lunch Tray that’s attracted attention on Twitter.
In 2011, I emailed Wansink to ask a question about the Smarter Lunchrooms initiative, which at that point was just being rolled out in schools. I wanted to know if he and his team had measured not just whether clever “nudges” induced children to take more fruits and vegetables from the lunch line, but whether they actually ate them.
To my surprise, instead of just answering my question, Wansink agreed to let me interview him for the blog. We conducted the interview by phone on March 30th and I took verbatim notes on my laptop as we spoke. I shared the transcript of our discussion on the blog the next day.
In that interview, Wansink seems to have openly admitted to me that Smarter Lunchroom techniques are, by and large, completely ineffective with children in elementary school. Here is the relevant excerpt, which comes just after the question where I asked about taking food versus eating it:
The USDA has spent almost $20 million in taxpayer dollars to fund and implement Smarter Lunchrooms research and, at least in my observation, Smarter Lunchroom techniques are used primarily in elementary schools.
Yet Wansink seems to have admitted that these techniques generally don’t work with this age group. This admission is all the more troubling given BuzzFeed’s finding that two of Wansink’s studies looking at children aged 8-11 (i.e., elementary school-aged) were in fact conducted with much younger children, preschoolers aged 3 to 5.
What should we make of all this? I’ll keep you posted here.
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