There’s no question that the daily battle to encourage, entice and coerce children to eat their vegetables is one that has many parents banging their head against the wall in frustration. Many of us have felt guilty as we’ve resorted to bribes, but now science is saying a little bit of bribery isn’t a bad thing!
A study published by the Journal of Health Economics, has found that using cash incentives is a highly effective way to get more greens into those little tummies. And before you dismiss this as just a novelty or short-term solution, the study also showed that not only did the use of monetary rewards promote healthy eating habits, but those habits continued long after the payments stopped.
How does paying your kids to eat their veggies work?
Over the course of 18 months, researchers run studies with 8,000 students at 40 elementary schools in Utah. Each study ran for either three or five weeks.
They introduced an incentive program during lunch in the cafeteria, where children were offered a token worth 25 cents for adding at least one serving of fruit or vegetables to their plate. The tokens could be redeemed at the school store, carnival or book fair.
Student’s fruit and vegetable consumption before, during and after this experiment was noted, and the results were surprising!
As could be expected, the cash incentive for children to eat fruit and vegetables saw a dramatic increase in their consumption over the three- or five-week period.
But here’s what happened after the tokens stopped being handed out
The researchers found that many children continued with these new healthy eating habits, regardless of the fact the reward had disappeared. The children’s eating habits were observed up to two months after the program finished, and showed that 21 per cent more students in the three-week program were eating fruit and vegetables than before. The five-week program was even more effective, and showed a sustained 44 per cent increase in vegetable consumption two months later.
Why do financial incentives increase healthy eating?
The study suggests three reasons for this dramatic improvement in healthy eating habits.
The first is that over the course of the three or five-week period, students became used to eating a slice of watermelon, a floret or two of broccoli or a ripe peach with their lunch, and the habit became automatic by the end.
The second theory is that, according to the study “consuming the fruits and vegetables may have led to either re-discovery of pre-existing tastes, a development of a new taste for a food to which a particular student may have had limited exposure, or a change in tastes.”
And finally, the simple truth, that by normalising the regular consumption fruit and veggies, all children were able to eat healthily, without being ‘made fun of’ by other students.
The question is, will it work at your dinner table? Let us know if you give it a try!