Stories about: food politics

Do we really need cafeteria cameras?

When your kids smile for the camera, do they say ‘cheese’ or show it? For some Texan elementary school kids, the answer could be both.

Health officials in San Antonio recently received a $2 million dollar grant to pay for a surveillance and analytical program that would more accurately study what kids eat while at school. According to a report on CNN, small cameras in the cafeteria would take pictures of some children’s lunches and analyze its nutritional value. Then, once the student returns his tray, a second video is taken, recording what was (and wasn’t) eaten so the program can calculate the total nutritional intake for that meal.

It may sound like high tech science fiction, but the program’s creators say it has much more in common with the old saying “the camera never lies,” than with George Orwell’s 1984.

According to the program’s designers, when researching childhood obesity, camera-based food analytics provide more accurate data than self-reported surveys, because in many cases parents and kids often underreport the amount of junk food they’re eating. If too many people involved in an obesity study turn in falsified data, researchers are left with an inaccurate picture to make their recommendations with. In theory, cameras would help eliminate some of that fudged data.

Fried and processed school lunches are under the microscope

Using surveillance equipment to study kids’ lunch habits is sure to jar some medical ethicists, but the San Antonio program isn’t as covert as it sounds. For starters, it’s voluntary; parents must give permission for their child to be entered into the program so no one is unknowingly monitored. Secondly, the cameras will record and track students’ lunch habits through a barcode system—no faces will be recorded—which will provide a better sense of anonymity for the children involved. Once collected, school officials will use the information to determine what kids are eating, and plan school meals around the more popular healthy menu items. Parents who request to see their child’s lunch record will have access, which could help them plan home meals that balance out their child’s diet based on what was eaten at school.

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