Surveillance cameras monitor food intake in school cafeterias

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

Think it is safe to grab an extra slice of pie? Well, think again.

That's right, because San Antonio schools are installing cameras in cafeterias capable of reading bar codes embedded in food trays.

Using a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the system will "snap a picture of the food tray at the cashier and we will know what has been served," said Dr. Roberto Trevino of the San Antonio-based Social and Health Research Center.

The premise of the program is to obtain a detailed list of exactly what kids in poor areas with high rates of childhood obesity are eating to develop a better nutrition plan.

The system goes as far as to measure what doesn’t get eaten too, "When the child goes back to the disposal window, we're going to measure the leftovers," Trevino added.

The cameras will identify the food, capture the nutrient levels and measure the food that children eat, says Dr. Roger Echon of the center responsible for the program.

The goal is to cut down on childhood obesity by providing parents and school administrators with detailed information about the types of food kids are eating and exactly how much. With the data collated by cafeteria cameras, they can then design healthier meals based on a student’s real-life habits, said the center’s spokeswoman Denise Jones.

"We will be able to determine whether current programs that are aimed at preventing obesity work, and whether they are really changing students' behavior," Trevino said.

During a recent visit to the W.W. White Elementary School, Dr. Echon presented a detailed food report based on one student's tray, including serving size, calories, fiber, sugar, and protein. The technology is apparently advanced enough to break down the data into total monounsaturated fatty acids, soluble dietary fiber, and more than 100 other specific measures.

Trevino added that the children will not be photographed and only those with permission will be able to partake in the program. If the effort is successful in San Antonio, the plan is to further implement the technology on a more widespread level. 

(Via Reuters