Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrity Chef School Lunch

The Financial Times reports that a British chef (Jamie Oliver, or 'The Naked Chef') accidentally created a random experiment in school lunches.  One school system implemented his recommendations for healthier school lunches, and other similar ones did not.  Preliminary results are that the new food reduced absences and increased test scores.  In other words, healthy foods had an immediate and significant positive effect on school outcomes.

The columnist makes another important point.  We need to be running more experiments like this:

Obviously that discovery is important in its own right. Jamie Oliver was correct to emphasise the importance of feeding schoolchildren good food. But the whole episode matters for another reason. Too often, critical scrutiny of what works and what doesn't in our society has been replaced by a pure emotional response. ...
Surely what counts is that a new idea was tried out on a respectable scale, and now we have a chance to figure out whether it worked. What astonishes me is that it took a television company and a celebrity chef to carry out a proper policy experiment.

But really, we already knew that healthy food is good for you.  The big question, that any responsible parent has dealt with, is: "How do you get kids in the habit of eating healthy when we are surrounded by a culture of obesity?"  When they are really young, you can easily control the menu by fiat, but when they get to the preteen years you have to instill some self-control.  A perfectly healthy school menu does nothing if the kids ignore it and smuggle in junk for lunch.

It seems to me that the best way would be to constantly tell them that unhealthy foods are childish, and that healthy foods are the mark of grown-ups, and that anyone who insists on eating unhealthy stuff is a baby.  That would work especially well on that age group: "If you want to be treated like an adult, then you should eat like an adult."

But that strategy only works of parents do not eat junk.  Kids are the ultimate hypocrisy detectors.   They copy what we actually do, not what we say.

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