Seeing certain foods prompts kids to eat healthier

July 25, 2012 By Stacey Shackford

(Medical Xpress) -- Just because healthful foods are available in school cafeterias doesn't mean children are going to eat them, but in some cases, the very presence of such foods as whole fruit may actually prompt kids to make healthier choices, even if fruit is never selected.

A study by researchers at Cornell's Center for in (BEN Center) found that the mere presence of applesauce and fruit cocktail on the school lunch line sent students to seek out sugary snacks, increasing the number of cookies, ice cream bars and Little Debbie snack cakes they purchased, while green beans and bananas inspired them to make more healthful choices.

"The impacts of offering a single vegetable or fruit may have significant implications for the whole meal," said study co-author Andrew Hanks, a for the BEN Center.

"Even though these students did not take a fruit or vegetable, either in a meal or as a separate item, their choices of the less healthy a la carte items were still affected by the presence of ," said BEN Center co-director and study co-author David Just. Brian Wansink, the other co-director, is also a co-author.

The study, published in the April edition of the Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, analyzed purchase data from two schools in upstate New York.

The authors hypothesized that the children's choices could be the result of the "priming effect." The sweet nature of applesauce and fruit cocktail might have led the children to be drawn to other items with greater , while the green beans and bananas could cause the student to think about .

Although the exact foods that trigger behavior may differ from cafeteria to cafeteria, the principle is that relatively more healthful items trigger healthier choices and vice versa.

The findings build upon previous studies by Just and Wansink that have found that environmental cues such as visibility, convenience and accessibility can affect behavior in systematic ways.

"Trigger foods may fly under the radar, influencing choice without overtly drawing the attention of the decision maker, but they can have substantial effects on the nutritional content of the food selected," Wansink said.

Just added that the behavioral anomaly could be exploited to lead children to eat better. "This information can be most useful for food service directors as they strive to identify which options will help students make the most healthful choices," he said.

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service and Food and Nutrition Services.

Explore further: When chefs move the fruit

Related Stories

When chefs move the fruit

September 29, 2011
Want to double fruit sales in schools? A new Cornell University study shows it is as easy as putting the fruit in a colorful bowl. According to research presented this week at the American Dietetic Association Conference ...

What would Batman eat? Priming children to make healthier fast food choices

July 19, 2012
Popeye inspired a generation of growing Baby Boomers to eat its spinach. Today, role models such as Batman can prompt children to develop their own healthy eating habits, a recent Cornell University study finds.

Considering what Batman would eat helps kids' diets

May 30, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- In the ongoing battle to get children to eat healthfully, parents may do well invoking the names of superheroes to come to their rescue, say Cornell researchers.

Recommended for you

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

November 17, 2017
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.