CHICAGO — An evaluation of the 2008-09 Healthy Schools Partnership pilot study indicates research dietitians may play a role in influencing healthier diet choices among grade school students.

The study, which was designed to develop long-term solutions to the youth obesity epidemic, places registered dietitians in schools as "R.D. Nutrition Coaches," working with physical education coaches to help children change eating behaviors with short, one-on-one coaching sessions while being physically active. For the pilot program, coaches were placed at three public elementary schools in the Kansas City area over a 14-week period.

In evaluating the program, the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California-Berkeley found 31% of students in the pilot schools who did not eat a vegetable with the school lunch at the beginning of the 14-week period reported eating one by the end of the study. This compared with 17% of students from two control schools who said they ate a vegetable with lunch.

The study also showed students from the intervention schools showed a significant improvement in their nutrition knowledge compared with the students from the comparison schools. For example, 48% of students in the intervention group were able to identify fruits and vegetables as a good source of fiber, compared with 12% in the comparison schools.

"We are thrilled with the initial success of the Healthy Schools Partnership program,’ said Judith L. Dodd, a registered dietitian and chair of the American Dietetics Association Foundation. "A.D.A.F. is dedicated to reducing the incidence of childhood obesity in this country, and the positive feedback we’ve received from the pilot program is a great step toward reaching this goal."

Ms. Dodd said the program now will be expanded to reach more than 2,000 students in grades two through nine during the 2009-10 school year.

The Healthy Schools Partnership is led by the American Dietetic Association Foundation, the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition and PE4life.