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Why Recess HELPS Kids Eat Fruits and Veggies

School lunch tray
In recent years, some schools have been reducing recess hours -- or eliminating it altogether, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for schools to keep schoolyard play. Despite support from the AAP, some elementary schools (like these 23 schools in Florida) are still cutting back on playtime in favor of study time...to meet Common Core standards.

But a new study, published in Preventative Medicine, reveals two great reasons for schools to keep recess: Kids who have recess before lunch are more likely to eat (and finish!) fruits and veggies -- which means they're less likely to waste food.

Researchers studied seven elementary schools (grades 1-6) in Orem, Utah and focused on kids who enrolled in the federally-funded school lunch program (which requires that kids eat either a fruit or veggie). Of the seven schools, three had recess before lunch and four had recess after lunch. Over a few days in the spring and fall of 2011, the researchers measured the serving amount of fruits and vegetables that students threw away in the trash. The scientists recorded a total of 22,939 observations. HealthDay reports:

In the schools that held recess before lunch, students' consumption of fruits and vegetables rose 54 percent. There also was a 45 percent increase in the number of students who ate at least one serving of fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, students' consumption of fruits and vegetables decreased at the schools that still held recess after lunch.

"[W]e found that if recess is held before lunch, students come to lunch with healthy appetites and less urgency and are more likely to finish their fruits and vegetables," said David Just, a co-author of the study. On the flip side, when recess is held after lunch, kids are more like to rush through eating (and waste more food) in order to play.

And according to a 2013 Harvard University study, students throw away around $1.2 billion in food every year. This is an astounding number, especially given America's hunger crisis.

There are also other benefits of keeping recess; other studies have shown that recess promotes physical activity, creative and imaginative play, a readiness to learn, better social skills, and less bullying. Even though one mom has her doubts about having recess before lunch, all the combined factors still make up a good list of reasons why schools should keep recess.

Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?

Image: School lunch tray via Shutterstock