Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced a new $1 million grant to Cornell University, along with smaller grants totaling another $1 million to other institutions, to look at how behavioral economics can be used to encourage kids to eat healthier meals at school and elsewhere. The program has been nicknamed BEN, since it involves Behavioral Economics and Nutrition.

The USDA is already in the school breakfast and lunch business in a big way; some 11 million children eat breakfast at school each day and 31 million participate in the National School Lunch Program. This new grant is designed to establish a new, research focused center at Cornell, the Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. The other grants look at how small changes in schools can impact changes in how children eat. For example, the Baylor College of Medicine will work with Houston, Texas schools where cafeteria staff will "nudge" children towards healthier choices and families will get information on school menus and recommended foods via a website, Facebook, and Twitter.

In Utah, researchers at Brigham Young University will look at how placement of healthy foods on lunch lines, replacing vending machine choices with healthy foods, and providing small incentives to eat fruits and vegetables will change the way children eat in several local schools.

Every parent has his or her own rules -- or tricks -- to get kids to eat healthier. It's good to see that schools are being encouraged to try some behavioral interventions to improve nutrition and to investigate what can effect change. Children need adequate nutrition for maximum learning. And they need to eat healthier to help turn around our national crisis of obesity. 

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