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The UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention has partnered with Chartwells School Dining Services to study how new technologies could affect school lunch participation rates and healthy food choices.

Chartwells is a Charlotte-based company that provides meals to more than 6,000 U.S. schools.

The “Taste Texting” program will be launched April 8 with a pilot group of 30 students at Chapel Hill High School and is scheduled to run through May. As part of the study, students will be asked to order their lunches ahead of time from their phone or over the Web.

“This is the first time a program like this has been implemented anywhere in the country, and we’re excited about the prospects,” said Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and director of UNC’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

Ammerman has worked with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system since the oldest of  her three children started school in the district in 1993. She has served as booster club president, PTA member, team parent, member of the Healthy Schools Advisory Council, and researcher. She says that the pilot will be adding students slowly, week by week, to accommodate a larger group of participants in the texting program.

When signing up for the program, students can choose how often they want the Taste Texting system to contact them about ordering lunch and whether they want these reminders in e-mail or text-message format.  When a student places an order, his or her lunch will be waiting in the cafeteria at the specified time.  There is no additional cost to the student, and students on the federal free and reduced-lunch programs may participate, also without cost. Students will be asked to complete a survey afterward to determine whether they benefitted from the program and whether they think it works well.

“The goal of the program is to determine whether students use a technology with which they’re already very familiar to order their lunches, whether that technology encourages them to order school lunch more often, and whether the food they order in advance – by way of texting – is different from what they might have ordered on the spot in the serving line,” said Billie Karel, study coordinator and master’s student in nutrition at the Gillings School.

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