A new study conducted at inner city public school in Cincinnati (Ohio) suggests that labeling children food with smiley faces is a great way to persuade children to choose eating healthy foods. Moreover it is both an easy and inexpensive way.
Researchers at the Cincinnati school marked healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grain products and fat-free milk with smiley face labels in order to see if children from kindergarten through sixth grade can be influenced to eat healthier.
After three months have passed, in addition to the smiley face emoticons, the researcher introduced the “Power plate” at the cafeteria: a meal which contained the four healthiest foods. The students who chose this meal were offered small rewards such as stickers, mini beach balls and temporary tattoos. For the next five months the scientists kept track of the power plate selections. In order to monitor individual purchases of healthy food the researchers used cash registers receipts.
After the five-month period the results of the study showed that simple white fat-free milk sales grew with over 500%, whereas chocolate milk sales decreased from 86.6% to 44.6%. the vegetables and fruits sales also increased. Vegetable selections increased at 62% and fruit selection increased at 20%. In the case of products containing whole grains there was no significant change recorded. However the sale of power plates increased by 335%.
Taking into account the fact that the highly positive results were obtained only by using smiley face emoticons label and small incentive prizes the scientists concluded that this was an effective and low cost method of making students eat healthier food.
Child obesity is considered a serious public health concern because it puts the health of the children at risk. Schools have been making efforts for a long time to improve the way in which students select the food they eat at the cafeteria.
Medical director at the Center for Better Health and Nutrition (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center) and lead author of the study, Robert Siegel, remarked:
“It looks like we found a very promising, low-cost and effective way of improving the nutrition of elementary school children.”
According to Siegel this type of technique can be very useful for schools that try to improve the nutrition and health of the students.