TORONTO – You tire your kids out to coax them into naptime, but a new study suggests that recess before lunch could also encourage healthy eating.
Swapping around the classroom schedule so that recess comes before lunch could help kids eat healthier, American doctors say. When they moved recess ahead of lunch, kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables increased by 54 per cent.
Researchers at Cornell University and Brigham Young University say that the swap is almost intuitive – when kids have 20 minutes of lunch, their priority is eating quickly so they can head outdoors.
“Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids. If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time,” Joe Price, an economics professor, said in a university statement.
“You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviours too high,” he explained.
Price and his colleague, David Just, led a study that ran out of seven elementary schools in Utah. Three of the schools switched recess to before lunch while the rest stuck to the traditional recess after lunch.
The researchers measured fruit and vegetable waste in the trash cans at the schools, and recorded the number of servings of produce the kids ate for four days in the spring and nine days in the fall.
Turns out, the kids who refueled on lunch after recess ate 54 per cent more fruits and vegetables. There was also a 45 per cent increase in students eating at least one serving of the fresh fare. On the other end of the spectrum, fruit and veggie intake at the other schools decreased.
While on a mission to uncover how healthy food can be appealing to youth, the researchers say they learned that parents can “exploit” popular cartoon characters in the same way that fast food companies manipulate kids with flashy packaging and free toys.
“If we’re trying to promote healthier foods, we need to be as smart as the companies that are selling the less-healthy foods,” Just said.
“The message should be fight fire with fire,” he said.
Health officials are getting creative in trying to persuade kids to eat healthy. In 2012, Just and his colleagues at Cornell University found that calling in the likes of Elmo and Batman could be parents’ best bet.
Children were offered an apple, a cookie, or both, to accompany their lunch. On some days, the snacks were marked with stickers or were in packaging while on other days, they weren’t.
When the snacks were plain, without any branding, more than 90 per cent of the kids reached for the cookie over the apple.
But once researchers slapped an Elmo sticker on the fruit, 37 per cent of the kids chose the apple.
The latest study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine. Read the findings here.