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Study delves into health food

BY LILY ABROMEIT | MARCH 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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Healthier eating has a better chance of beating out junk foods when it comes to filling stomachs and cash boxes, according to a study recently released by researchers at the University of Iowa.

After learning that offering healthier foods can increase satisfaction while maintaining steady incomes, researchers are hoping to influence the UI with their newfound knowledge.

“I would love to see it used in Iowa City,” said Helena Laroche, a UI assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics and a researcher on the team. “There’s relevance beyond just high-school concession stands.”

Concession Stand Makeovers began in 2008 as a project designed to revamp concession stands during high-school athletics events by adding healthier options. Some of these options included baby carrots, chicken sandwiches, and pickles.

After collecting data from a pilot program at Muscatine High School, researchers wanted to learn if alternatives to traditional concession-stand food are positive.

Laroche said the benefits reach beyond high-school games and could be used as a teaching tool.

Aiming to expand the reach of this study, Laroche said the team is working on new and improved ways to distribute the information. Part of the plan is to use a guide created by the team that details the benefits and various steps groups can take to implement the program.

UI Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said although there are not plans to use the guide to alter concession stands, the study will most likely have an effect on the school.

“We are in the very early stages of considering what research like this has to say about dining in the residence halls,” he said in an email. “I think that research on promoting healthier eating is relevant to what we do in the residence halls, in our convenience stores, and in locations such as Pat’s Diner and the River Room.”

Richard Lewis, the research writer for the study, said he thinks students would react well to any changes introducing healthier eating.

“People are more mindful about what is going into food and what is going into their bodies, so giving people those options is receptive,” he said. “A lot of people want a choice.”

The study, he said, also shows that money is not lost with these changes.

Lewis said although the idea of adding healthier foods was not revolutionary, the tracking of sales might have been, because they proved sales were steady in some areas while increasing in others.

The study includes information for comparing revenue across two years. The healthier options made up 9.2 percent of the total revenue in 2009.

Lewis said while the data are convincing on its own, the next step is a focus on advertising and marketing as well as looking at the study through a larger lens.

He said he thinks the researchers will now look at the information in more detail in terms of what sold the most and why they were popular.

Laroche said a large-scale picture is exactly what she has in mind for this research in the future.

“I’m hoping that it will get people to notice … [that] here is an example that it can be done, here are the things that work,” she said.  “Then they will be inspired to let the people in the schools know.”


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