Less than a month before Congress votes on whether to reauthorize a controversial program mandating healthier school lunches, a new study confirms the suspicions of school officials — many students are putting the fruits and vegetables they’re now required to take straight into the trash, consuming fewer than they did before the law took effect.

The new study, published online in Public Health Reports on Aug. 25, is the first to use digital imaging to capture students’ lunch trays before and after they exited the lunch line.

It is also one of the first to compare fruit and vegetable consumption before and after the controversial legislation — the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — was passed.

After passage of the legislation and the USDA mandates it put in place 2012, the study found that students put more fruits and vegetables on their trays, as required, but consumed fewer of them and increased waste by approximately 35 percent.

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption,” says Sarah Amin, Ph.D., a researcher in Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont and lead author on the study.

“The answer was clearly no,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to see so many students toss fruits like apples into the trash right after exiting the lunch line.”

Digital imaging produces fast, accurate data

Amin and her co-authors documented almost 500 tray observations over 10 visits to two…

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