That, at least, is the conclusion of researchers who looked at the issue recently.
The research found some coverage in Medical Express with the headline “Study: Pay kids to eat fruits, veggies with school lunch”
In its eye-popping lede, the story said the nation’s children throw out $3.8 million of the extra $5.4 million in fruits and vegetables mandated by updated federal school lunch standards.
The solution: an old fashioned bribe.
From the story:
With Cornell’s David Just, Price conducted a second study to measure the effect of small rewards in the lunchroom. The week-long experiments took on different twists in the 15 different schools – some could earn a nickel, others a quarter, and others a raffle ticket for a larger prize. But the results were generally the same. As the scholars report in The Journal of Human Resources, offering small rewards increased the fruit and vegetable consumption by 80 percent. And the amount of wasted food declined by 33 percent.
One published version of their work, called “Using incentives to encourage healthy eating” is available on the website of BYU and and another, updated version is available from the journal Public Health Nutrition.
David Just of Cornell University and Joseph Price and Brigham Young University summarized their findings in the BYU paper:
We use data from a field experiment at 15 elementary schools to examine effective incentives that increase the fraction of children eating a serving of fruit or vegetable as part of their school lunch. We were able to raise the fraction of children eating fruits or vegetables at lunch by 27.3 percentage points (an 80% increase) by providing a small incentive. The incentives also reduced the fraction of fruits and vegetables being thrown away by 43%. Our results indicate that small incentives can dramatically increase fruit and vegetable consumption during school lunch. Incentives also increase the cost effectiveness of the money schools are already spending on fruits and vegetables by increasing the fraction of those items that actually get consumed.