Should schools pay kids to eat their fruits and vegetables?
He told of an experiment he conducted at a 4-H camp in which he gave half the kids carrots and let the other half choose between carrots and celery. The latter group consumed more carrots than the group that had carrots handed to them.
Because the incentives in the just-published study were offered for only five days — not long enough to get children to form a habit — the researchers have since launched another study to see what will happen if they provide incentives for a five-week stretch. Those results are not in yet, Price said.
Are incentives bad?
"There's some talk about incentives being bad, that it removes intrinsic motivation for kids," Price said. "I think what should come out of this is parents and others consider incentives as part of a broad set of tools to promote positive behaviors in children. Any school could do what we did and could do it much cheaper."
Schools could provide extra recess, more free time or a fun assembly, for instance, Price said, adding that at home, "parents have a lot of incentives available."
But from an economic standpoint, even cash incentives seemed cheaper than paying for all those wasted fruits and veggies, Just said.
The Cornell center has come up with a number of changes that are free or have a one-time cost associated, according to Just. It's free to come up with attractive names for the fruits and vegetables or to put them in different, more alluring places in the food line. Those are among the changes that can be made for about $30 or less that make a real difference. And if it looks good and children feel like they're making a choice, they eat it, he said.
Price thinks that requiring the fruit or vegetable be placed on a child's tray leads to a lot of waste, but he understands its value, too. "I think that's an important guideline. We should be providing healthy food. But we have to be creative to make sure they wind up in the tummy and not in the trash."
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