CAM EducationCAM PoliticsChildrenDiet-Nutrition

The limits of choice in selecting healthy meals

Simply “adding 1 or 2 healthy items to a menu is essentially the worst thing you can do,” according to researchers from Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina in a press release.

What are the implications for school food programs?

First, the details.

  • Participants were assigned to select a food item from 1 of 2 pictorial menus.
    • A menu of unhealthy items: french fries, chicken nuggets, and a baked potato with butter and sour cream
    • The same 3 options plus a side salad
  • All participants possessed high levels of self-control related to food choices, as assessed by a pre-test.

And, the results.

  • When confronted with the “unhealthy menu,” participants avoided french fries — the least healthy item on a menu.
  • When a side salad was added to the menu, most participants were more likely to take the fries, not the salad.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “The presence of a salad on the menu has a liberating effect on people who value healthy choices.”

“We find that simply seeing, and perhaps briefly considering, the healthy option fulfills their need to make healthy choices, freeing the person to give in to temptation and make an unhealthy choice.”

They recommend that schools and other establishments concerned with promoting healthy behaviors may need to take an extreme approach and eliminate all unhealthy food from school menus.

WeightWatchers tells us that parents are a major influence on the food choices of their children. Yet, it’s not uncommon for parents to control less than half of their child’s caloric intake.

“Students who eat breakfast at school could consume approximately 58% of their total daily energy requirement at school,” according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, in Washington, DC.

Educators, parents, administrators, and politicians might want to consult the Institute’s 2005 publication titled, Preventing Childhood Obesity for more information.

4/24/09 09:17 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.