Don't tell kids why veggies are good for them, study suggests
A new study confirms what some parents know from experience: most kids are less likely to eat fruits and vegetables if these foods are presented to them as 'healthy.' (Lana K /shutterstock.com)
Published Thursday, May 22, 2014 12:25PM EDT
A recent study led by Dr. Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business indicates that children who are told certain foods will make them stronger, smarter or taller are less likely to want to eat them.
"We propose that young children infer from messages on food instrumentality that if a certain food is good for one goal, it cannot be a good means to achieve another goal," Fishbach explains in an article slated for publication in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
"As such, if food is presented as making them strong...these children will conclude the food is not as tasty, and will therefore consume less of it."
In short, the study concludes that the best way to foster healthy eating habits in young children is to avoid telling them how fruits and vegetables will make them stronger, taller or smarter.
To reach these findings, researchers carried out five experiments on a sample population of 270 preschool-aged children (ages three to five). The study found that children ate more of a food when it was presented without commentary or when it was presented simply as tasty, without any indication of its "usefulness."
Meanwhile, a separate study published last year in the journal Psychological Science explored a different approach and found that teaching kids about nutrition through books could boost their vegetable intake. Scientists from Stanford University in the US found that even very young children, aged 4 and 5, could benefit from a conceptual framework, built up over a period of three months, that encourages them to understand why eating a variety of foods is healthy, the researchers said. Over time, kids chose to eat more vegetables.