OBESITY, according to a government-sponsored report, could make the current generation of Americans the first in history to live shorter lives than the previous one. A major change in food habits is needed to reverse the trend of widening waistlines (a development which we recently illustrated on our blog Graphic detail). Recognising that people’s dietary preferences develop at an early age, John List of the University of Chicago and Anya Savikhin Samek of the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined in a recent study whether children can be “nudged” (or incentivised) to eat more fruits and less sweets. Their results suggest that the answer is yes.
In a field experiment carried out in Chicago over several weeks, Mr List and Ms Savikhin Samek tested the impact of giving kids an incentive to choose food they normally would not. During after-school programmes dubbed “Kids’ Cafes” in 24 different locations across the city, children aged 6-18 were offered a free snack and could select either a cup with dried fruit (dried banana with acai or dried mango) or a cookie (such as snickerdoodle or chocolate chip). A group of the Kids’ Cafes was randomly selected to offer the children at their particular site an incentive to pick the cup; each time an individual chose the dried fruit over the cookie and ate it in the cafeteria, he or she would receive a small prize worth 50 cents or less (for example a wristband, pen or keychain).