Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Contests boost fruit and vegetable eating in children

school meals Image copyright School food plan
Image caption The study found a third of children increased their fruit and veg intake during a competitive challenge

Children will eat more fruit and vegetables if the process is made a competition, according to research.

A study carried out at Edinburgh University suggested that playing to a youngster's competitive streak was likely to result in a third of them choosing more healthy foods.

And it indicates that girls are more likely to respond to competition in vegetable-eating than boys.

The study involved more than 600 pupils aged six to 10 in 31 English schools.

For the "individual" scheme, pupils were given a sticker if they chose a portion of fruit or vegetables at lunchtime, or brought one in as part of a packed lunch.

They were given an extra reward if they picked, or brought in, more than four of the foods over the course of a week.

In the "competition" scheme, a second set of pupils were also given a sticker for choosing a portion of fruit and vegetables, but were split into groups of four, with the youngster in the group who had the most stickers at the end of the week gaining an extra reward.

Longer-lasting effect

There was also a control group that was offered no incentives for eating fruit or vegetables.

The researchers, from Edinburgh, Bath and Essex universities, found that the results differed by pupils' age, gender and background.

However, overall, offering pupils incentives increased their consumption of the foods, with the competition having a greater and longer-lasting effect than the individual scheme.

Prof Michelle Belot of Edinburgh University said: "They would take about one fruit and vegetable per week at lunch. An increase of one per week is quite a lot.

"A week after we removed the incentive scheme, it continued for most groups of children.

"We came back after six months and we didn't see any 'backfiring'. There is some work in psychology which shows if you reward children it can sometimes backfire, so afterwards they eat less.

"We were quite concerned that this may happen, but we didn't see that happening at all."

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