Want kids to eat veggies?!? Try paying them

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, December 20, 2013

The old adage really is true after all: Kids will do anything, including eating their fruits and veggies, if they’re given a reward for it.

Two university professors recently concluded that children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they were given a clear incentive to do so. Cornell University professor David Just and Brigham Young University professor Joseph Price ran a series of experiments in which they offered different groups of school children different types of incentives, including coins and raffle tickets, to eat the fruits and vegetables given to them as part of a school-prepared lunch – and they caved.

“We find that providing a reward increases the fraction of children eating a serving of fruits or vegetables by 28 percentage points (an 80 percent increase), and this increase occurs even on those days in which only vegetables are being offered,” they wrote in their report.

Price told The Huffington Post that the purpose of the study was to find a way to convince low-income students with poor diets the value of a good diet, and their work definitely paid off. The pair found that the monetary tactic was twice as effective on students at low-income schools, who may not have access to fruits and vegetables at home, than it was at high-income schools.

He added that paying children to eat their greens wouldn’t cost the schools that much in the long run, either. “If I’m a principal, I have lots of extra rewards available to me, an extra recess, [for example],” he said. “A similar argument could be made for paying kids to read books.”

According to the journal Public Health and Nutritionthe government’s fruit and vegetable mandate puts $5.4 million worth of food on school cafeteria trays nationwide daily, however $3.8 million of that ends up in the garbage.

“We saw a minor increase in kids eating the items, but there are other ways to achieve the same goal that are much, much cheaper,” Price said in a news release.

Price also told HuffPo that he was excited by the results and is curious to see what other good behaviors children could develop through incentives.

“Incentives work very well for activities that allow kids to acquire a taste or develop a skill,” he said. “I think there’s clear evidence that if a kid tries something a couple times they’ll develop a taste for it.”

A similar study conducted by a team of researchers including Freakonomics’ Steven Levitt found similar results; that study involved paying children for earning high marks on tests.


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