Essex: Hiding peas in the mashed potato? Researchers find competition works better than incentives to get kids eating more healthily

EADT NEWS WEST - WILL CLARKE
HEALTHY EATING - Pupils from Elmswell Community Primary School settl

EADT NEWS WEST - WILL CLARKE HEALTHY EATING - Pupils from Elmswell Community Primary School settle down for their school dinners, although there has been a drop in school dinner take up, more opt for a packed lunch. Photograph Tudor Morgan-Owen 19/07/07

Researchers from the University of Essex believe introducing competition at meal times could encourage youngsters to eat more healthily.

Dr Patrick Nolen, from the University of Essex

Dr Patrick Nolen, from the University of Essex - Credit: Archant

A study by a team from the institution, alongside academics from the universities of Bath and Edinburgh, found children ate up to a third more fruit and vegetables when taking part in a competitive scheme rather than an incentive-based scheme.

The research was conducted with more than 600 Year Two and Five pupils in 31 schools,

It is hoped the study may help those taking advantage of universal free school meals to actually eat healthily.

Dr Patrick Nolen, from the University of Essex, said: “Interestingly, unlike in other work on competition, we find girls – rather than boys – respond more favourably to the competitive incentive.


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“This means that girls, who generally eat more healthily than boys, increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables even more under our new incentive.”

The researchers now hope that the results of their findings can be taken on by policymakers and health officials looking to improve the dietary choices of young people across the UK.

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According to the World Health Organisation, poor diet in many developed countries is the primary cause behind the rising cost of healthcare.

The study, Incentives and Children’s Dietary Choices: A Field Experiment in Primary Schools was published today by the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research and is available on the University of Essex website.

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