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Spies in the Lunchroom? Capturing Kids’ Calorie Consumption


Many have debated the merits of placing cameras in schools for security purposes, but in San Antonio, a program is using cameras in a completely different manner.

Schools in San Antonio are testing a new program that measures how many calories students consume at lunchtime.

Officials concerned about the childhood obesity problem have instituted a $2 million research project that will photograph students’ lunch trays before they sit down to eat and later take a snapshot of the leftovers. The goal of the program is to improve eating habits at five San Antonio elementary schools.

Reuters quotes Dr. Roberto Trevino of the San Antonio-based Social and Health Research Center as saying, “We're going to snap a picture of the food tray at the cashier, and we will know what has been served. When the child goes back to the disposal window, we're going to measure the leftover.”

A computer program then analyzes the photos and calculates how many calories have been consumed by the student.

Funded by a grant from the Department of Agriculture, the program is the first of its kind in the U.S. Organizers say concerns about students’ identities are not warranted because the cameras point only at the trays. No child’s face is to be photographed.

Bar codes on the trays serve as the primary tracking system. The software not only calculates caloric intake, but also the values of 128 other nutrients consumed. Parents will receive reports based on their child’s consumption, with the hopes that the information will lead to improved habits at home.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled. There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence among U.S. children and adolescents. In 2007—2008, Hispanic boys, aged 2 to 19 years, were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white boys, and non-Hispanic black girls were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls.

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