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Paying kids to eat veg

Researchers at Brigham Young and Cornell universities say the good news is that a new U.S. government rule has schools serving an extra $5.4 million worth of fruits and vegetables each day.

The bad news is that a study shows the kids discard 70 per cent of it.

“We saw a minor increase in kids eating the items, but there are other ways to achieve the same goal that are much, much cheaper,” BYU economics professor, Joe Price said in a release.

The cheaper solution may be to pay them.

Researchers conducted a second study to measure the effect of small rewards. The week-long experiments took on different twists in 15 different schools — some could earn a nickel, others a quarter, and others a raffle ticket for a larger prize. But the results were generally the same. The scholars reported in The Journal of Human Resources that offering small rewards increased the fruit and vegetable consumption by 80 per cent. The amount of wasted food declined by 33 per cent.

The researchers say this raises the question of whether benevolent bribery is a better way.

“We feel a sense of dirtiness about a bribe. But rewards can be really powerful if the activity creates a new skill or changes preferences.”

The researchers say that with healthy eating, for example, some fear that prizes will prevent children from developing their own motivation to eat well. Another danger, known as a “boomerang effect,” is the possibility that some children would eat fewer fruits and vegetables when the rewards disappeared.

When the week of prizes ended, students went back to the same level of fruit and vegetable consumption as before. There was no lasting improvement, but no boomerang effect either.

The researchers are studying whether extending the experiments over three to five weeks might yield lasting change, and say so far things look promising.

“I don’t think we should give incentives such a bad rap,” Price said. “They should be considered part of a set of tools we can use.”

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