"Colorful" Incentives Push Children Toward Healthier Lifestyle

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COLUMBIA - If children could choose between a cookie or an apple, which one would your child select? Likley the cookie, right? Well, a new study says that could change.

Have you ever considered "dressing up" your fruits and vegetables to make them more appealing?

Researchers discovered that when elementary students had the choice between apples and cookies with lunch, children were more likely to opt for the apple when it was decorated with a cartoon sticker.

"That would be a great incentive. I love that. That would be really good for them to actually move more towards the fruits and the vegetables...all the healthiest stuff. Reward them with different things and stuff like that. Those stickers will always work," Columbia mother Ursuline Lewis said.

Cartoon characters and flashy advertising are often seen on cookie and candy packaging so researcheres decided to turn the tables.

"Somethings that we do are just human nature and so as far as picking pretty, colorful things and I mean the marketers all know this with you know Taco Bell and McDonalds and all of the fast food places, they know what catches kids' attention. And what we can do is sort of kind of make that work in our favor as well," Boone County Hospital Center Dietician Jennifer Polniak said.

208 students were tested during lunch for a week. The eight to 11 year olds had to choose an apple, a cookie or both, along with their normal meal.

Some days, the snacks were offered without cartoon stickers or other branding. On other days, either the cookie or the apple was branded with a familiar cartoon character.

When the snacks weren't specially marked, 91 percent of children took a cookie and just under one-quarter took an apple.

But when an Elmo sticker was slapped on the apples, 37 percent of children took fruit, the researchers reported. Stickers on cookies didn't affect children's choice.

"Different incentives work differently on children all the time. So if you find what they're interested in, I think that would definitely be an incentive to the child to eat better," Columbia father Don Riddle said.

Polniak said the road to adolescent healthier living begins in the home.

"Missouri is one of the top states for the choldhood obesity and so it's a real huge issue and it's something that you know can be addressed with kids easier than any where. I mean if you get a kid and you can make good habits when a child is young, then it's one less problem they're gonna have later on."