Research shows that Brighter Bites helps children, families eat healthier

August 2, 2016, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Credit: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Brighter Bites, a school-based program that combines the distribution of donated produce with nutritional education and a fun food experience for low-income families in food desert areas, was successful in improving the intake of fruits and vegetables in first-grade children and their parents, according to a new study by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Food desert areas are defined as neighborhoods with limited access to fresh produce.

Results showed that Brighter Bites also significantly reduced the intake of among the children and improved the home environments of the families, including increased frequency of cooking at home, serving more fruits and vegetables and eating more meals as a family. Parents also showed improvements in understanding nutrition fact labels and using them to make grocery purchasing decisions.

The research was published online July 25 in Preventive Medicine.

"This study is important because it shows the feasibility, acceptability and impact of implementing a unique, school-based food co-op model to improve dietary behaviors and the home nutrition environment among low-income, underserved children and their parents," said Shreela V. Sharma, Ph.D., associate professor of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health and co-founder of Brighter Bites. "While food co-ops are becoming popular, there is little published literature to show their benefit and impact."

The visionary behind Brighter Bites, a non-profit organization, is Lisa Helfman, who in 2012 created the formula of combining the distribution of fresh produce plus nutrition education and a fun food experience of food sampling and health promotion, after participating in a local fruits and vegetables co-op. Sharma operationalized the formula, created the nutrition education materials and developed the research infrastructure around the program.

"I hatched the idea of Brighter Bites because my two boys changed their eating habits as a result of consistent exposure to more fruits and vegetables over the course of several months, and I thought if I could have these results in my house, could we replicate them in underserved neighborhoods too. Now it's been scientifically proven that it works for many other children too. With this conclusive research, I know we can have a significant impact on countless more families. I am thrilled for my cofounder Dr. Sharma and for the dynamic research team behind this project," said Helfman.

For the study, Brighter Bites' 16-week study program combined access to fruits and vegetables with nutrition education and a fun food experience. It included weekly distribution of fresh, primarily reclaimed produce sourced and delivered from the Houston Food Bank that was sent home with the family for eight weeks each in the fall and spring. The program featured weekly healthy recipe tastings featuring produce from that week and health education in the schools and for parents.

As part of Brighter Bites, schools were trained in the Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH) program, an evidence-based coordinated school health program developed by researchers at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth School of Public Health. Parent-child nutrition education included a set of two bilingual handbooks and weekly recipe cards sent home with parents.

In the controlled, comparative effectiveness trial, six schools in the Houston area received Brighter Bites and six received CATCH alone. At baseline, 71 percent of the first-grade children were Hispanic, 24 percent were African American and 43 percent were overweight or obese.

Study results showed impact on both, children and parents:

  • A 9 percent increase in the intake of fruits among children receiving Brighter Bites. Those in the CATCH-only group stayed the same.
  • A 20 percent increase in the intake of vegetables among children receiving Brighter Bites versus a 7 percent increase among those receiving CATCH only.
  • A 13 percent decrease in intake of added sugars among children receiving Brighter Bites versus a 2 percent decrease among those receiving CATCH only.
  • A 13 percent increase in the intake of fruits among parents receiving Brighter Bites versus a 15 percent decrease among those in the CATCH-only group
  • A 6 percent increase in vegetable intake among parents in the Brighter Bites group versus a 3 percent increase in the CATCH-only group

On average each week, Brighter Bites families received 57 servings of fruits and vegetables (which cost the program $2.65 per family per week). Eighty-seven percent of parents reported their family ate all or most of the vegetables and 94 percent said their family ate all or most of the fruits provided. There was also a two-fold increase in frequency of cooking from scratch at home among parents in the Brighter Bites group, compared to those in the CATCH-only group, which stayed the same.

There were increases in both groups of parents understanding and using nutrition facts to make grocery purchases. But the increases were greater among those in the Brighter Bites group. There was also an increase in the number of parents reportedly setting rules such as limited portion sizes among the Brighter Bites parents but no such increase in the CATCH-only group.

"Brighter Bites links the school and the home, the two environments that a child spends a majority of their time in, to create opportunities to practice healthy eating behaviors for children and parents alike," Sharma said. "The produce, channeled through local food banks, is primarily donated fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away. This is important because it means less food waste, which is a huge problem in this country."

Explore further: Fruit and vegetable intake still too low; human nutritionist says to focus on lunch

Related Stories

Fruit and vegetable intake still too low; human nutritionist says to focus on lunch

August 20, 2014
Changes to a supplemental nutrition program are improving the number of fruits eaten daily by children, but kids and adults still aren't reaching the recommended daily intake amounts. A Kansas State University human nutritionist ...

Regular family meals together boost kids' fruit and vegetable intake

December 19, 2012
Regular family meals round a table boosts kids' fruit and vegetable intake, and make it easier for them to reach the recommended five portions a day, indicates research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and ...

Majority of very young children in California eat fast food at least once a week

November 26, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A surprisingly large percentage of very young children in California, including 70 percent of Latino children, eat fast food regularly, according to a new policy brief by the UCLA Center for Health Policy ...

Rhode Island childcare centers using federal nutrition subsidy served healthier food

July 14, 2016
A new Brown University study suggests that in Rhode Island, the nutritional requirements imposed by a federal food subsidy program for daycare centers that serve low-income children have resulted in kids at those centers ...

Kids' eating habits highlight need for healthier lunchboxes

May 3, 2016
New research from the University of Adelaide shows children aged 9-10 years old are receiving almost half of their daily energy requirements from "discretionary" or junk foods.

Recommended for you

New exercise guidelines: Move more, sit less, start younger

November 12, 2018
Move more, sit less and get kids active as young as age 3, say new federal guidelines that stress that any amount and any type of exercise helps health.

Some activity fine for kids recovering from concussions, docs say

November 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Children and teens who suffer a sports-related concussion should reduce, but not eliminate, physical and mental activity in the days after their injury, an American Academy of Pediatrics report says.

Yelp reviews reveal strengths and weaknesses of emergency departments and urgent care

November 9, 2018
Yelp reviews reveal that emergency departments are viewed as being higher quality but lacking in service as compared to urgent care centers, which patients rate the opposite, according to a new study from researchers in the ...

A look at how colds and chronic disease affect DNA expression

November 8, 2018
We're all born with a DNA sequence that encodes (in the form of genes) the very traits that make us, us—eye color, height, and even personality. We think of those genes as unchanging, but in reality, the way they are expressed, ...

Patients with untreated hearing loss incur higher health care costs over time

November 8, 2018
Older adults with untreated hearing loss incur substantially higher total health care costs compared to those who don't have hearing loss—an average of 46 percent, totaling $22,434 per person over a decade, according to ...

Lifespan is increasing in people who live to 65

November 7, 2018
Stanford biologist Shripad Tuljapurkar had assumed humans were approaching the limit to their longevity – that's what previous research had suggested – but what he observed in 50 years of lifespan data was more optimistic ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.