How to Get Children to Eat Fruit & Veg
It is a problem that most parents can relate to: how to get children to eat fruit and vegetables. But a new study from the Universities of Bath, Edinburgh and Essex suggests that all it takes is to appeal to the child’s competitive side.
There were 31 schools across England involved in the study, in which researchers monitored how much fruit and veg children in Year Two (six- to seven-year-olds) and Year Five (nine- to 10-year-olds) consumed.
The children from two-thirds of the schools were then introduced to two schemes – “individual” and “competition”. These schemes used stickers as incentives for the children to eat extra fruit and vegetables, while the remaining control-schoolchildren were given no incentive.
For the individuals’ group, a sticker was awarded to a pupil if they chose a portion of fruit or vegetables to go with their lunch, or brought one in their packed lunch. By the end of the week, if they had opted to have more than four of the foods, the children were given an extra reward.
In the competition scheme, the children were split into groups of four. They were also awarded stickers for choosing fruit or vegetable portions, but the child with the most stickers at the end of the week would be in receipt of an extra reward.
Dr Jonathan James from Bath University’s Department of Economics said that the study was a way in which to examine what would be the best way to encourage young people to eat more healthily.
The study lasted for six weeks, and the results varied from group to group depending on background, age and gender. For example, it was observed that the individual programme worked well with the older children, but less so for the younger age group.
With the children from the competitive group, though, around a third of the children who had not been eating their greens before the trial were doing so afterwards, giving competition the edge over the individual scheme.
“They would take about one fruit and vegetable per week at lunch,” said Edinburgh University’s Professor Michèle Belot. “An increase of one per week is quite a lot.”
She explained that a week after the incentive scheme had been removed, most of the groups of children were still opting to add fruit or vegetables to their lunch. And the same could be said when the researchers returned to the schools after six months.
It was also found that while boys responded to both incentive schemes, girls were more likely to be responsive when an element of competition was involved. According to Dr Patrick Nolan from the University of Essex, previous work on competition has indicated that boys are more competitive than girls, just not in this case.
“This means that girls, who generally eat more healthily than boys, increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables even more under our new incentive,” he explained.
So, if you want to get your children eating healthier, the best way is to introduce some sort of competition. If you have this struggle with more than one child, adding a competitive element should be simple enough. However, an incentive scheme does work for children on an individual level, so it isn’t all a loss.
Finally, we have the answer.