According to a new study performed by a team of experts in nutrition, placing happy emoticons, such as smiley faces, near healthy foods and rewarding the children with small prizes, could help them make healthier choices regarding the food they eat in school cafeterias.
The researchers presented their findings at the annual conference of the Pediatric Academic Societies held in San Diego, California.
The experts conducted the study in a public school in Cincinnati, Ohio. The study involved 297 children, from kindergarteners to sixth graders.
The researchers first placed smiley face emoticons in the cafeteria where the healthy foods were. These foods included fresh fruits and vegetables, plain white fat-free milk, and whole grains.
The experiment lasted for about three months, during which the students were rewarded with small prizes, such as small beach balls, stickers or temporary tattoos, if they chose the “Power Plate”, which was the name of the meal that consisted of the four healthy foods.
The researchers monitored how many children opted for the healthy menu for approximately five months.
They used the cash register receipts to determine if the kids chose to eat healthier if the smiley face emoticons were near.
According to the results, the cafeteria sold more plain white fat free milk by 500%, while chocolate milk sales went down from 86.5% to almost 44.6% in just five months while the study lasted.
The researchers also found that fruits and vegetables sales increased by 62% and 20% per student daily.
The whole grains products sale did not increase significantly during the study but the overall sale of the power plate menu went up by 335%.
Following the results of the study, the researchers concluded that placing happy emoticons near the healthy food section in school canteens and rewarding the kids with small prizes proved to be an effective and low cost technique of getting the kids to eat healthier.
Robert Siegel, MD at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and one of the authors of the new study, said that the experiment suggests that this could be an effective method of improving the eating habits of children in elementary school.
According to Dr. Siegel, this type of program will most likely prove successful in schools and will help improve the health and nutrition of students.
Childhood obesity is a health condition where excess body fat can affect the child’s health and is considered by medical experts a serious public health concern.
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