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VC Schools launch lunch experiment

April 17, 2012

Dr. David Just explains how layout and design can affect the food items students select at the Valley City High School’s Hi-Liner Diner.

Does design affect diet?

The Valley City Public Schools, under the direction of food service director Sue Milender, will be conducting an experiment this week to track food sales following a visit from behavioral economist Dr. David Just.

Just was taken on a tour of the schools Friday morning with Milender after speaking at the Hi-Liner Activity Center on Thursday.

“Essentially, I’m looking for small ways that we can change the design or layout of the food that leads kids to choose healthier items rather then the less healthy items.” he said. “It’s not about taking the less healthy items away, the chips will still be here for breakfast, but it won’t be the first thing the kids see.

Just said that keeping fresh fruit and vegetables at eye level will prompt students to make more health conscious decisions about what they are putting in their bodies, and if junk food is moved to the back or to a lower rack, it will be “out of sight and out of mind.”

“Small things like that can have a big impact, about 30 percent on the movement of fruit versus movement of chips or Rice Krispie treats,” Just said.

The tools used to dispense food did not escape Just’s eye, either. He said at one school he visited, a vat of mayonnaise was available to students with a large ladle to scoop it out. He also pointed out a small pair of tongs used to dispense strawberries at Washington Elementary School.

“Small inconvenience really does limit how much we take, and we may think it doesn’t affect us much,” said Just. “For some of those less healthy items, finding the right service so that it’s not so inconvenient that people can’t get it who want it, but it’s not convenient to take tons and tons and overeat it.”

Milender said it was an honor to have Just at the schools, and his only two stops in North Dakota last week were in Valley City and Fargo.

“We’re going to take all the information that he’s given us and we’re going to put into practice,” Milender said. “We’ll be watching sales.”

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