The National Institutes of Health is spending over $224,000 to study how to introduce healthy child menus in an effort to alter the "ordering behavior" of kids in restaurants.
A research project awarded on Nov. 26 to San Diego State University will attempt a "restaurant-based intervention," coupled with a marketing campaign aimed at children to fight obesity.
The school has been given $224,250 for an "exploratory intervention" study that will specifically target Latino children, which the researchers say have the highest rates of obesity.
The project will first observe children’s "menu ordering and consumption behaviors" in 12 restaurants, followed by the "restaurant-based intervention."
The intervention will create healthy child menus based on dietary guidelines. The researchers will then promote the menu through "an innovative children's menu marketing campaign and prompting by restaurant employees."
"The primary aim of this study is to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention on sales of new healthy child menu items using restaurant sales data," the grant said. "An exploratory aim will examine whether the addition of new healthy child menus is effective at altering ordering and consumption behaviors, assessed observationally, to decrease the calories, fat, and sugar, and increase the fruits and vegetables that children consume."
Dr. Guadalupe X. Ayala, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, is leading the project.
Ayala has received $8.2 million from the NIH to lead various studies since 1997, including one focused on promoting healthy habits in Latino grocery stores.
According to San Diego State University, Ayala often works with grocery stores and restaurants on obesity prevention programs. She also has examined how to use family interventions in the Latino community to combat obesity, funded by the American Cancer Society.
"Dr. Ayala’s intervention studies are theory-based and culturally- and contextually-relevant," the university said. "Most have resulted in improvements in health behaviors such as healthy eating and improvements in health status such as reductions in waist circumference."
Her latest project, "Introducing Child Menus in Restaurants to Improve Access to Healthier Foods," is slated to last until November 2015, and is being funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The project’s public health relevance statement says the goal is to change what restaurants serve to kids.
"National health surveys demonstrate that obesity is the most prevalent chronic disorder among youth, with 31 [percent] of children classified as obese; rates are higher among Mexican-origin children living in the U.S.," it said. "Nutrition research indicates that more frequent consumption of away-from-home foods is associated with higher intakes of calories, fat, and sugar."
"This study proposes to change the restaurant food environment by modifying what is offered to children and promoting these changes through a marketing campaign and employees."