Smile, kids. You're on calorie camera.
A $2 million project unveiled Wednesday in the cafeterias of five elementary schools in San Antonio, Texas, has high-tech cameras that will photograph what foods children pile onto their trays - and later capture what they don't finish eating.
Digital imaging analysis will then calculate how many calories each student scarfed down. Local health officials said the program, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, is the first of its kind in a U.S. school and will be so precise it can identify a half-eaten pear left on a tray.
"This is very sophisticated," said Dr. Roberto Trevino, director of the San Antonio-based Social & Health Research Center, which will oversee the program.
Researchers said about 90 percent of parents gave permission to record every morsel of food their child eats. Trevino said only the trays, and not students, will be photographed.
Students are assigned lunch trays with a unique bar code. After the children load up their plates down the line - mashed potatoes or green beans? french fries or fruit? - a camera above the cashier takes a picture of each tray.
When lunch is over and the kids return their plates to the kitchen, another camera takes a snapshot of what's left on the tray. Software then analyzes the before and after photos to calculate calories consumed and, according to Trevino, a report of nutrients in the foods.
Researchers hope parents will change eating habits at home once they see what their kids are choosing in schools. The data also will be used to study what foods children are likely to choose and how much of if they're eating.
In Bexar County, where the pilot schools are located, 33 percent of children living in poverty are obese.