Smiley Faces and Incentives May Help Kids Eat Healthier
The battle against childhood obesity has been raging in recent years, as the number of overweight kids in the United States continues to rise. Government and education officials have been working together to encourage school kids to make healthy choices during lunch and beyond. This has included removing junk food from some schools, eliminating fatty foods from school lunches and increasing education efforts on the benefits of healthy foods.
A new study, recently presented at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies conference, found that adding smiley-face images near healthy foods and offering rewards for choosing them could greatly decrease the amount of poor food choices children make in the lunch line.
The research focused on 297 inner-city students in grades kindergarten to sixth-grade. Researchers first placed green-smiley face emoticons near the four healthiest foods in the lunch line: white skim milk, vegetables, fruit and an entrée featuring whole grains. Three months later, the researchers added in small prizes to kids who chose a “Power Plate” - a meal featuring the four healthiest foods. The prizes included stickers, temporary tattoos and small toys.
The research team found that skim milk sales increased by over 500 percent over a five-month period. Fruit and vegetable selections increased by 20 and 62 percent respectively. There were no noticeable changes in the sale of the whole grain entrée itself, although the “Power Plate” selection increased by 335 percent.
Since the study was conducted at two different schools with the same results, the research team is convinced that this program could be an effective and low-cost way for school districts to battle childhood obesity. It is hoped that more research will be conducted in different markets in order to verify the results nation wide. Before we know it, those smiley-faces could be in every school across the country.