What Kevin participated in was one of two after-school healthy eating programs that are being studied as part of a partnership between the after-school provider New York Edge and Columbia University. About 300 students across 20 school sites were provided with either the Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. program, or NY Edge’s Food Explorers program, with their nutritional choices tracked over the course of 10 or more weeks.

Through the partnership, researchers aim to learn if the educational interventions from these programs can help kids make healthier choices, particularly at chain restaurants.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has also prioritized establishing healthier eating habits among the city’s young people. Since the start of 2022, the city has committed $1 million to integrating food education into schools in coursework, after-school programs, and more, according to a recent report.

Most recently, the city started its “Chefs in Schools” initiative, partnering with Wellness in the Schools to develop plant-based, culturally relevant recipes and train New York City public school chefs.

“These meals will provide more than just nutrition,” Adams said at a Tuesday press conference. “They will expose our children to flavorful and healthy eating — because food has to taste good. No one wants to eat boring food.”

Nearly 40% of NYC public school children were overweight or had obesity, with childhood obesity disproportionately impacting Black and Latino students, according to 2019 data from the city’s Health Department. Childhood obesity also increased during the COVID pandemic, studies have found.

To address the situation, researchers aren’t necessarily trying to stop kids from eating at fast food chains, for instance, but to help them make better choices.

Nationwide, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires chain restaurants to post nutritional information about their menus. But Williams, who is the vice dean of community health at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said research has found those listings tend to inform the decisions of educated and more affluent individuals at higher rates.

Meanwhile, people who come from lower-income backgrounds or marginalized communities tend to have their purchases driven by other factors, like cost.

“There was even a paradoxical effect where sometimes folks in these lower income communities deliberately purchased the highest calorie items as a way to maximize caloric intake per dollar,” Williams said.

Read the full article about child nutrition programs in schools by Julian Shen-Berro at Chalkbeat.