Competition could increase fruit and vegetable consumption in children

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A study undertaken by Edinburgh University suggested that activating a child’s competitive streak could result in at least one third of them opting for more healthy food choices.

It shows that girls are more likely to react to competition in vegetable-eating than boys.

The study included in excess of 600 pupils between the ages of six and 10, from 31 English schools.

The ‘individual’ scheme included providing pupils with a sticker if they chose one portion of vegetables or fruit at lunchtime, or if they brought one with them as part of their packed lunch. If they brought in or picked more than four of the foods over a one-week period, they received an extra reward.

The ‘competition’ scheme involved a second group of pupils being given a sticker for opting for a portion of vegetables and fruit. However, these participants were divided into groups of four, with the children in the group with the most stickers come the end of the week, receiving an extra reward.

There was another group who was not offered any incentives for eating fruit and vegetables.

The researchers from Essex, Bath and Edinburgh universities discovered that the results were different based on gender, age and background.

They found however, that offering incentives increased the consumption of the foods, with the competition resulting in a greater, more enduring effect than the individual scheme.

Professor Michelle Belot based at Edinburgh University, said the pupils would opt for one vegetable or fruit per week during lunch and she said this increase of one per week is quite substantial. She added that one week after the incentive scheme was removed, most of the groups continued their eating regime.

She said when they returned to the schools after six months, there was no difference. She added that there is a psychological theory which states that if children are rewarded, it sometimes backfires and they eat less afterwards. The team was quite worried that this may occur, but it did not.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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