CORNELL—A little choice and some creative titles—think “power peas”—can go a long way in getting children to eat their fruits and vegetables, research shows.
The findings suggest school lunch programs could make better use of behavioral economics to understand how biases influence decisions.
In the study, when preschoolers were offered so-called “X-ray vision carrots,” they ate 62 percent more of the vegetable than when the vegetable was referred to as just plain old carrots, and the increased consumption of carrots persisted even the next day.
Cornell University marketing professor Brian Wansink and behavioral economist David Just report their findings in a recent issue of Choices (published by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association) and outline how the results could be applied in school cafeterias at www.SmarterLunchrooms.org.
For example, instead of coercing children to eat healthier foods by substituting fruit for cookies during snack time, the researchers write, “children can be presented healthy and unhealthy items and be led to willingly choose the good.”
In school, cafeteria workers can prompt children to choose a piece of fruit, or display healthier foods at eye level or more prominently. Even such factors as noise, crowding, and long cafeteria lines may prompt children to choose more “grab and go” foods instead of healthier options, say the researchers.
“The object of using behavioral economics in school lunch rooms is to guide choices in a way that is subtle enough that children are unaware of the mechanism,” write the authors.
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