Relationship between Money and Food Consumption: Children with Debit Cards Eat More

First Posted: Jan 19, 2014 09:30 PM EST

Teaching your child the right dietary choices can be an important part of transitioning into adulthood. Yet a recent study shows that children who use debit cards for school lunches may be making unhealthier choices than those who use cash.

"Kids are much, much, much more likely to take desserts and are much less likely to take fruits and vegetables [with their debit cards]," behavioral economist Brian Wansink from Cornell University said, via NPR. "In contrast to that, in schools where kids are paying cash, kids not only buy a lot more fruit but they also buy a lot less dessert."

Study researchers tracked the behaviors of 2,300 students from 287 schools throughout the nation, with all participants in grades one through 12. The study found that children given debit cards were more likely to overeat than those who used cash. In fact, the study authors note that children who used cash were three times more likely to buy vegetables. They also consumed close to 10 percent fewer calories.

As debit cards are more abstract than actual money, researchers believe that children may be less worried about their actions when using them. Therefore, they may be more likely to overeat and make unhealthy choices.

Wansink suggested some tips to help prevent students from making unhealthy choices. For instance, he stated that schools could sell snacks and desserts as cash-only items, where as fruits, vegetables and other healthy choices could be bought with cash or a debit card. He also recommends placing some unhealthy items-such as cookies-out of reach for children to buy. This, in turn, forces them to ask for a cookie, and if the student is in a hurry, he or she may skip buying it all together.

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More information regarding the study can be found via the journal Obesity.

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