U study nudges kids toward veggies

A new study found that kids are more likely to eat vegetables once pictures of healthy food are put on their lunch tray.
February 02, 2012

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have published a new study that could help increase vegetable consumption for young children.

In the study published online Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, five University researchers put photographs of vegetables on elementary school lunch trays. The study concluded that vegetable consumption rose the day the study was conducted for the more than 700 school children at a Richfield, Minn. elementary school.

Traci Mann, a psychology researcher at the University, and four other researchers in the food science, marketing and applied economics departments conducted the study on two separate days in February and May 2011.

The researchers put photographs of carrots and green beans in separate compartments on the trays and saw a significant increase in the consumption of both vegetables.

Mann said there have been studies in the past that have shown slight changes in school cafeterias that boost fruit and vegetable consumption.

“You just want to nudge them in the right direction,” Mann said.

The researchers chose the Richfield School District  because the administration was very receptive to research that could help kids eat more vegetables.

Deb LaBounty, nutrition services supervisor for the school district, said the district had tried various strategies in the past to boost vegetable consumption, like moving vegetables to the front of the lunch line and putting the food in nice containers.

LaBounty said the kids didn’t seem to notice the difference in trays.

“Kids don’t want to listen when you tell them what to do,” LaBounty said. “The photographs make them think that’s what all the other kids are doing.”

As for long-term implementation of the trays, LaBounty said she would love to have the photograph trays all the time but that the school district doesn’t currently have the resources.

Mann said she couldn’t reveal all of the details but said that she and her fellow researchers are continuing to conduct studies in the Richfield school district.

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