The last few summers, a socio-dietetic-economic experiment at Lexington's public pools has provided a valuable lesson: If you offer tasty, nutritious food, people will buy it.
That's our takeaway from a news release this week about the success of the Better Bites program at Lexington's public swimming pools.
As most parents know, children get hungry when they swim, and the traditional offerings at concession stands range from the nutritiously dreadful to the outrageous.
In 2011, Better Bites, a brainchild of Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition, set out to offer an alternative. The idea is to develop healthy kid-friendly snacks that are as convenient and inexpensive as the fat-, sugar- and salt-laden processed foods that dominate the snack market.
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That year, two public pools tried it, with moderate results. But Parks and Recreation kept the program, expanding it each year, and the results have been impressive: a 297 percent increase in sales since 2011.
By summer 2014, Better Bites accounted for nearly 40 percent of all concession sales.
The Bites included chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers, cheese quesadillas, veggie dippers, string cheese, chocolate banana dippers, frozen yogurt, fruit and Popsicles. The frozen yogurt was the big seller, racking up almost $12,500 in sales. Fresh fruit outsold chicken nuggets three to one.
Better Bites is active far beyond the local pools, having formed alliances with the Fayette County Public Schools, Jessamine County pools, Kentucky State Parks, the Legends baseball team and three state government office buildings. This summer, the Better Bites to Go Bike began circulating around the city, selling healthy snacks for $1.
The growth numbers would be impressive for any venture. But the truly big story is that they prove that people, even young people, will make healthy choices when offered.
Soon, people in Kentucky and across the nation will have better information to make better choices.
Under the Affordable Care Act, restaurant chains with more than 20 stores will soon be required to include calorie counts and other nutritional information on menus.
Interestingly, researchers have found that many chains are changing their offerings to reduce calorie counts in advance of being required to provide that information.
That's important everywhere but particularly in Kentucky, which ranks eighth in the nation in childhood obesity, fifth in adult obesity and first in high school-age obesity.
Clearly, there's a long road ahead to change those numbers, but Better Bites, the Tweens Coalition and Lexington's public pools all deserve credit for taking important steps along that path.