According to the Toronto Star, only 19 percent of 6 to 12 years old chose the healthier option when presented with the choice of McDonald’s Happy Meal with apple slices and water or fries and a can of Coke, both with a toy. But when the choice was a toy with the healthier meal vs. the fries and Coke meal but no toy, 40 percent of children chose the healthier option.
Incentives and Learning To Make Healthy Food Choices
Offering a child a toy to get her or him to eat healthfully can be criticized as, well, bribery. As a parent, I’ve learned that a child needs a “nudge” — some sort of motivation — to choose apples over fries, or water over soda. My own motivation to teach my son to eat healthfully has been strengthened by reports of higher numbers of children with disabilities being overweight; also, my son, who’s moderately to severely autistic, takes some medications that can lead to weight gain. He is not a vegetable eater but likes fresh fruit, so we have plenty of that available.
I teach college students and food offerings on my (urban) campus are not very healthy or rather, healthier options such as salads are far outnumbered by a full range of fast food and similar fare. A good percentage of students at my college are Latino and have mentioned concerns about health problems associated with weight gain (diabetes) in their families. I’ve rarely seen students munching on fruits or vegetables or rather, anything besides packaged, salty, sugary items.
Of course, college students can’t be told what to eat but I wonder: Had there ever been concerted efforts to teach them healthier eating habits, not to automatically reach for chips, cookies and carbs?
Strong laws regulating school snack foods may smack of social control, but the obesity problem in the US and elsewhere is real. Why do nothing when we could do something?
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