Can the Computer Nudge Students to Eat Healthier?

Posted 10/11/2016 | By HealthCorps

A novel study found that if kids order their school lunch on a computer and receive messages suggesting healthier choices or swap outs, some of them will modify their choices and make more nutritious selections. In other words kids will eat healthier and make better choices.

Five billion school lunches are served daily in the U.S. Though the majority of the kids do consume fruits and vegetables daily, less than one percent eats the federally mandated amount of fruits and vegetables recommended.

In this study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers recruited 71 students to participate in the National School Lunch Program at a local Florida public school. The students, fifth and sixth graders were divided into two groups. Both groups were instructed to preorder their daily lunches, and one group received messages called “nudges” to let them know that they had not met healthy criteria set up for the five components of their meal. The five components included: a protein (meat or meat alternative), grain, fruit, vegetable, and low fat milk beverage. A control group simply ate lunch daily in the cafeteria.

The researchers found that the group who received the nudges chose 51% more fruits, 29.7% more vegetables, and 37% more low fat milk than the control group. The group that pre-ordered but did not receive any nudges ordered 27% more fruit, 15.8% more vegetables and 16.3% more low fat milk than the control group. Just being part of a study may have inspired the second group to try to improve their food selections. The study did not evaluate levels of actual food consumption.

The nudges were generated from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program.

Thought the researchers caution that the study’s group of subjects was small, they feel the results suggest an easy, low cost method to inspire students to make more nutritious school lunch selections.

Some of the MYPlate recommendations include:

• Focus on variety, amount and nutrition
• Start with small changes to build healthier food habits
• Look for foods with lower levels of saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.
• Embrace healthier habits as a family

Other ways to inspire your kids to eat more nutritious foods include:

• Consider sending lunches from home
• Involve your kid in food shopping and selection
• Feature fruits and vegetables prominently in home-based meals and snacks
• Talk about nutrition in a positive way, emphasizing the health and energy benefits instead of focusing on weight specifically

Source: ScienceDaily

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