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School Lunch Times Too Short For Some Students

BOSTON (CBS) - Many public schools are offering healthier options for lunch these days but are they giving students enough time to eat them? Dr. Mallika Marshall has some disturbing results from a new Harvard study.

"Think of the poor kid at the back of the line who is the last one through," says Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, "And they only have a 15 minutes in total in their lunch period which means they only have nine to ten minutes to eat their food."

Concerned about how much time kids are given at lunch, Rimm and colleagues looked at 1,000 children in grades three through eight at six Massachusetts schools. They found that when kids were given less than 15 minutes to eat their lunch, they ate 10 to 15% less of their entree, fruit, vegetable, and milk than kids who had 25 minutes or more to eat. Rimm says over time that can really add up.

"Over the course of the week, it could be an extra serving of vegetables or fruit that they're missing out on because they're rushing through their meal," he says.

If a child leaves lunch hungry, they're unlikely to perform well in the afternoon and they're more likely to eat unhealthy snacks after school, teaching kids the wrong lessons about good nutrition. "If you're going to school where you learn arithmetic and you learn science, you should be learning how to relate to food and having kids only have 10 minutes to eat is probably not a good way to relate to food," says Rimm.

Rimm says it is up to local superintendents and principals to make lunch time a priority and make getting through the cafeteria line more efficient. And while he doesn't expect much to change on the federal level he hopes the First Lady is listening. "I'm hoping that Michelle Obama gets to hear about this and to know that should be part of the conversation because I think she's been a really positive force for getting healthy foods in schools," explains Rimm.

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