Nationally, less than one out of 10 high school students report eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables (F/V). A school-based wellness program in a rural community offers a salad bar and locally-grown produce as part of a concerted effort to increase F/V intake in high school students. However, no summer feeding program is in place. The aim of this study was to assess whether students’ F/V intake changes during summer months when they do not have access to the school lunch program.
Reflectance spectroscopy (RS) was used to measure skin carotenoids, a biomarker of F/V intake, in students (n=39) in May 2018 (end of school year) and August 2018 (first week of school). The unit of measure for RS is optical density (OD). A Wilcoxon signed-rank test (SPSS V25) was used to compare carotenoid levels; a Mann-Whitney U test was used to compare change in carotenoid levels between female and male students.
Carotenoid levels decreased significantly during summer break: median carotenoid scores in May and August, respectively, were 240 OD (Q1-Q3: 210-295) and 221 OD (Q1-Q3: 205-260; Z = -2.603, p = 0.009). There was no statistically significant difference in change in carotenoid levels between females (-30.5 OD; n = 26) and males (-20.0 OD; n = 13; Z = -0.119, p = 0.9).
The wellness program uses strategies to encourage F/V intake in the school lunch program. These results indicate that students ate more F/V when school was in session compared to summer. This may in part be due to school lunch participation, but other influences may play a role. This school district does not currently have a summer feeding program. Future research could test if a summer feeding program increases F/V intake during summer months.