Elementary Schools Get the Veggies

Vegetable consumption increased with simple pictures on trays

(RxWiki News) It is no secret that children need to eat more vegetables.  The government has recommended providing more vegetables in school lunches.  Despite these recommendations, children still aren't getting what they need. 

A research group at the University of Minnesota found an interesting and low cost way to help kids eat more vegetables.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers attempted to increase the amount of vegetables eaten by elementary school children in the school cafeteria.  They placed pictures of vegetables in the compartments of the school lunch trays so the children could see them. 

Lead investigator, Marla Reicks, PhD of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis explained, “We expected these photographs to indicate to the children that others typically select and place vegetables in those compartments and that they should do so too.”

"Speak to your children about the importance of eating vegetables"

During the study, the researchers compared the amount of carrots and green beans the children ate on a day without seeing the pictures to a day with pictures.  The children were in kindergarten to fifth grade.  Approximately 800 students participated.  After the children finished lunch, the left over vegetables were weighed.  They compared the weights of the vegetables on both days.

On the day when the children saw the pictures of the vegetables on their lunch tray,  8.5% more of the children chose green beans and 25.2% more children chose carrots.  Furthermore, the children ate more green beans and carrots on the day they saw the pictures. 

Placing pictures in the lunch trays was inexpensive and efficient.  In this study, the total cost of placing the pictures in the trays was $3.00 and took 20 minutes for 100 trays. 

Although the study demonstrated an increase in vegetable consumption, the amount of vegetables the children ate was still below the recommended government standards. 

The authors concluded, “…these findings were obtained from just 2 days in 1 school, so further research is needed to assess how well the effects generalize to other settings and persist over time.”  

This study was published in the February 8, 2012 issue of JAMA.

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Review Date: 
February 9, 2012