Debate: Should we pay kids to eat their vegetables?

The effect of bribery on kids is a hot topic among parents (and non-parents even). Will they grow up to


The effect of bribery on kids is a hot topic among parents (and non-parents even). Will they grow up to always expect something in return? Does it even work long-term? But according to a report in the December issue of Public Health Nutrition, it may be worth it in some instances. As the result of a new federal rule, U.S. schools are serving more fruits and vegetables. Great, right? Absolutely. Except that 70 percent of those extra fruits and vegetables are getting thrown out because kids simply aren’t eating them. Researchers from Brigham Young University and Cornell say an extra $5.4 billion worth of extra fruits and vegetables are being served to school kids across the U.S. But shockingly, kids are throwing out about $3.8 billion of that food. (The researchers observed the habits of three U.S. schools for this study.)

"We saw a minor increase in kids eating the items, but there are other ways to achieve the same goal that are much, much cheaper," BYU economics professor Joe Price said in a press release. Price and professor David Just of Cornell followed up the first study with a second study that looked at the effect of small rewards in the lunchroom, with students at some schools earning a nickel, some earning a quarter, and others getting a raffle ticket for a larger prize. These rewards (or bribes) led to an 80 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption. The amount of wasted food declined by about a third. When the researchers removed the bribes, the students went back to their normal habits, not eating extra fruits and vegetables, but also not eating any less than they originally had.

"Parents are often misguided about incentives," said Price. “We feel a sense of dirtiness about a bribe. But rewards can be really powerful if the activity creates a new skill or changes preferences.”

The study that involved bribing kids to eat more fruits and vegetables lasted only one week, so it certainly wasn’t long enough for any major changes in preference. However, it’s possible that offering incentives over a longer period of time would help to change eating habits.

What do you think? Could kids be trained to eat more fruits and vegetables through bribery?

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