Fighting Childhood Obesity One School Cafeteria at a Time

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Using Architecture to Curb Obesity

Huang and Trowbridge have published research on using school architecture to promote healthy eating.

"The guidelines are quite comprehensive," said Huang, who is the director of health promotion in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

However, he said, even existing schools can adopt some of the practices.

"There are many elements that any school can learn from," said Huang, who did this research while at the National Institutes of Health.

Those elements include "simple things like placing fruit in a beautiful bowl next to the cashier, instead of chips," he said. "Research has shown that this increases the likelihood that students will actually pick a fruit."

In Buckingham, an ethnically diverse district where 60 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, the changes go far beyond just the cafeteria and food choices.

The school has two levels, with beautiful stairs that lure kids to climb them. It even has cutting-edge chairs that allow kids to move.

"Our chairs are made to wiggle", said Principal Allen. "The regular student chairs just move, they have some give in them."

Fourth grader Durwin Westbrook said he liked the new school, including the cafeteria.

"I can sit anywhere I want at the table," he said.

Kindergartener Elly Abruzzo also found something to like.

"I get to watch them cook," she told ABC News.

Those behind this innovative school are gathering data to try to quantify the influence of the school building on activity levels and eating habits. There are no formal results yet, but the architectural project designer believes they've already succeeded on many levels.

VMDO's Dina Sorensen said the kids don't want to go home at the end of the school day.

"Just seeing how joyful the kids are in that space has been really rewarding," Sorensen said.

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