Redden's work could lead to greater consumption of vegetables and better nutrition

Parents have struggled for generations to get their children to eat more vegetables. Assistant Professor of Marketing Joe Redden and a team of University researchers may have found something that will help.

Redden was part of a multi-disciplinary team that conducted a two-day experiment with about 800 Minneapolis-area elementary students. On the first day, the researchers let the kids help themselves to the available school lunch items and noted what was taken and eaten.

The researchers returned to the school a couple months later on a day the same meal was offered. However, on this visit photographs of green beans and carrots were placed on the compartments of lunch trays.

Their easy and inexpensive intervention produced some surprising results. The percentage of students who elected for green beans doubled and the number choosing carrots tripled. This result is critical as a primary obstacle to healthier eating is getting children to even consider vegetables in the first place.

"The photos seem to indicate that they should take vegetables and that other children were also doing so. This nudge counteracted their initial reaction of rejecting the vegetables," Redden noted.

More importantly, the school children did not just take more vegetables, they also ate more of them. On the days with the vegetable photos, the amount of vegetables eaten at the school increased by 133% for the green beans and 177% for the carrots. This experience would hopefully lead to greater consumption of vegetables in the future and better nutrition over time.

Redden and colleagues recently published a research letter on their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association and are currently conducting further studies.