A recent pilot study indicates that $50 and three hours can increase the chances that teens will eat their fruits and vegetables (J Pediatr 2013; 162: 867-9). While the US Department of Agriculture has mandated alterations in what foods that schools offer for lunch, schools cannot force students to eat specific foods. As such, the authors tried changing the convenience, attractiveness, and ‘normative nature of healthy foods’ in the lunchroom. These changes are part of a behavioral science called “libertarian paternalism.”
These field studies took place at two schools in western New York with students at 7-12 grade levels. After implementing changes in the lunchrooms, researchers recorded tray waste on multiple dates.
Specific changes included the following:
- “Healthy convenience line” with only submarine sandwiches and healthier sides (fruits/vegetables)
- Salad served in see-through to-go containers
- Lunch menu posted with nice color photos of fruits and vegetables
- Fruit displayed in nice bowls or tiered stands
- Verbal prompts by staff: “Would you like to try…”, “No veggie? How about…” “You can get another side with your meal. How about grabbing a piece of fruit?”
- “Last chance for Fruit” sign displayed next to fruit basket at the cash register
The impact of the “smarter lunchroom:” actual fruit consumption increased by 18% and vegetable consumption increased by 23%. The limitations of this study: no control school, did not track individual consumption, and small number of measured days.
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