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Health & Medicine Pay Kids to Eat Fruits and Vegetables: Little Incentive Goes a Long Way

Pay Kids to Eat Fruits and Vegetables: Little Incentive Goes a Long Way

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First Posted: Dec 18, 2013 07:58 AM EST
USDA School Meal Standards Significantly Increased Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables
USDA School Meal Standards Significantly Increased Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables (Photo : Brigham Young University)

It turns out that serving kids more fruit and vegetables doesn't necessarily mean they'll eat them. While a new federal rule has prompted the nation's schools to serve an extra $5.4 million worth of fruits and veggies to children each day, the nation's children throw about $3.8 million of that food into the garbage. The findings may make policy makers rethink exactly how to encourage children to eat healthier food in the long term.

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"We saw a minor increase in kids eating the items, but there are others was to achieve the same goal that are much, much cheaper," said Joe Price, one of the researchers, in a news release.

So how exactly can you get kids to actually eat their fruits and vegetables? It turns out that you should pay them. The scientists conducted a second study to measure the effect of small rewards in the lunchroom; if children ate fruits and veggies, they were rewarded either with a nickel, a quarter or a raffle ticket for a larger prize. This actually caused fruit and veggie consumption to increase by 80 percent, and the amount of wasted food declined by 33 percent.

"Parents are often misguided about incentives," said Price in a news release. "We feel a sense of dirtiness about a bribe. But rewards can be really powerful in the activity creates a new skill or changes preferences."

In fact, it's possible that rewarding children for a time could eventually result in lasting behaviors without an incentive. That said, the researchers measured fruit and veggie consumption after the week-long experiments and found that the children went back to the same level. Yet it's possible that if the experiment continued to longer than a week, children might show more lasting changes.

"I don't think we should give incentives such a bad rap," said Price. "They should be considered part of a set of tools we can use."

The findings are published in The Journal of Human Resources and Public Health Nutrition.

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