Competitive streak gets kids to eat greens

Introducing a competitive edge to school meal times could increase the number of children eating fruit and vegetables by a third, a new trials suggest.

The proportion of those trying fruit and vegetables increased by around a third among pupils who were not eating fruit and vegetables every day before the six-week test.

Two schemes

Researchers conducted the trial in 31 schools in England involving more than 600 pupils in years two and five. Two incentive schemes were compared to a control group, where no incentives were provided.

The first incentive scheme gave pupils a sticker if they chose a portion of fruit or vegetables at lunch time, or brought it in their packed lunch.

Pupils were given an additional reward, such as a highlighter pen, on each Friday if they had collected four or more stickers over the week.

An element of competition

In the second incentive scheme, an element of competition was introduced. Pupils were randomly assigned into groups of four and the pupil with the most stickers in each group at the end of the week was given an additional reward.

Boys responded to both schemes, while girls mainly responded to the competitive one. The intervention had more pronounced effects among children who received free school meals.

Using incentives, particularly with children, is often controversial. Yet many parents use incentives to encourage positive behaviour from their children. Our research shows that certain incentives do work, and in particular work for groups of children that typically respond little - or not at all - to other health-promoting interventions, such as boys and children from poorer backgrounds.

Professor Michele BelotProfessor of Economics

Collaborative project

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh collaborated with the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research and the University of Essex on the study.

The paper was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, which aims to improve the quality of life for people and communities throughout the UK.

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