Winter 2019

The Fridge-in-the-Classroom Test

Could putting refrigerators in classrooms lead to healthier snacks?

By Jacqueline Clark

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Photo: iStock

At Sean Cash’s child’s school, parents donate snacks to classrooms. It’s a nice tradition, but because the snacks have to sit at room temperature, they’re often cookies, chips, and other sugary and salty snacks. Cash, the Bergstrom Foundation Professor in Global Nutrition at the Friedman School, wondered if adding small refrigerators to classrooms could lead to healthier snack donations.

To test his idea, Cash and his research team randomly assigned fifteen classrooms in an elementary school to receive mini-refrigerators for parent-donated snack storage. They asked teachers to record detailed notes about the snack donations received, and compared classrooms with and without refrigerators. After ten weeks, the researchers found that the donations to refrigerator classrooms were healthier, on average. Although the majority of snacks donated in all classrooms still fell into the category of salty snacks, the classrooms with refrigerators received significantly more fruits, vegetables, and dairy snacks. Additionally, teachers reported that in classrooms with refrigerators students liked the produce and dairy snacks best.

Rebecca Boehm, N12, N17, the first author on the study published recently in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, said that although the refrigerators had a modest impact on the nutritional quality of parent-donated snacks, small diet shifts in childhood can be important for the long term. “Eating habits get imprinted on children at a young age,” said Boehm, an economist in the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “and when people eat well during childhood, they’re more likely to have healthy life-long habits.”

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The Fridge-in-the-Classroom Test

Could putting refrigerators in classrooms lead to healthier snacks?