Field Notes

Toys Motivate Children to Eat a More Healthful Diet

Most children in the United States don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, some eating less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though there are multiple federal-level policies in place to ensure healthful options in school lunchrooms, these measures can’t guarantee that kids will choose the fruit or vegetable option, let alone eat it.

Now, new research from the University of Georgia suggests that fun can motivate kids to try new foods at lunchtime and ultimately eat more fruits and vegetables.

“There are many ways fun can be brought into the lunchroom,” says Janani Rajbhandari-Thapa, PhD, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the university’s College of Public Health and lead author on the study. “The lunchroom is not always thought of as a place where fun can be incorporated.”

Food marketers have been harnessing the power of play and fun for decades. Anyone who has seen an advertisement for kids’ foods—from Happy Meals to cereal—is familiar with how these companies use kid-friendly images and toys to make their products more appealing to children.

Public health interventions are beginning to adopt these tactics by associating healthful foods with kid-friendly images and objects, Thapa says.

Thapa’s study used stickers and small, inexpensive toys to incentivize kids at two low-income elementary schools to choose and eat more servings of fruits and vegetables. Over two weeks, Thapa and her team offered a token to students who selected and ate a fruit or vegetable serving that could be redeemed for a toy.

The students ate 2 1/2 times more servings of fruits and vegetables when the stickers and toys were introduced than they did before the study began. 

The important question was whether the students would continue to select and eat more fruits and vegetables after the stickers went away. Thapa designed her intervention so that kids would try new foods and hopefully develop a taste for them.

“After the intervention, they went back to their original lunchroom environment, and we still saw an effect,” Thapa says, suggesting that the students formed a new eating habit that would stay with them for the long term.

Helping kids make the more healthful choice in the split second it takes to grab an apple or a cookie is the philosophy of the smarter lunchroom approach, which uses simple, low-cost changes to the lunchroom that will help children make more healthful choices.

It’s important to know how effective these policies are, Thapa says, especially in areas where the school is potentially the only place where students can access fresh, healthful foods. The lunchroom plays a vital, day-to-day role in students’ eating habits, and she would like to see more schools incorporate healthful eating interventions into the lunchrooms.

 “Having this fun type of atmosphere and learning environment can promote healthy consumption as well as teach them at the same time,” Thapa says.

— Source: University of Georgia


Academy Celebrates Fifth Annual Kids Eat Right Month

August is Kids Eat Right Month™, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) and its Foundation focus on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for children and their families.

Created in 2014, Kids Eat Right Month mobilizes RDs in a grassroots movement to share healthful eating messages to help families adopt nutritious eating habits.

“Kids Eat Right Month is an opportunity for caregivers to reevaluate their family’s diet and make sure everybody is getting the right mix of healthful foods and exercise,” says Kristi King, MPH, RDN, LD, CNSC, a spokesperson for the Academy. “It’s also an opportunity to involve children in planning for mealtime and getting them excited about trying new foods and flavors.”

Fostering healthful eating habits in children is especially important because children have very high nutrient needs to support growth and development. Offering a variety of fruits and veggies, eating together as a family, and teaching kids age-appropriate cooking skills are all great ways to incorporate healthful habits into daily routines.

“Because kids learn so much simply by observing others, Academy members consistently encourage parents to become good nutrition role models,” King says. “Choose healthful foods and beverages that reinforce those habits in your children. The good habits kids develop in childhood will last a lifetime.”

The Kids Eat Right Month media kit is available now and includes the 2018 Kids Eat Right Month graphic, infographics, social media resources, and much more.

— Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics