STANFORD, Calif.—Children, ages 4 to 5, who for three months listened to five stories emphasizing key concepts about food and nutrition during snack time voluntarily consumed more vegetables than students who followed a typical snack time, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.
Psychologists Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman created five books on digestion, different food groups, characteristics of nutrients, and how nutrients help the body function. Each week one book was read to the group of preschoolers. The study showed that children—even at that age—were capable to understand conceptual approach to nutrition because of the natural curiosity that kids posses.
"We sought to harness this curiosity by creating a framework for guiding children to understand more deeply why they need to eat a variety of healthy foods," the researchers said.
After the books were read and questions were asked about food, nutrition and bodily functions, the researchers found that the children who heard the books had doubled their vegetable intake during snack time. The group of children who did not hear the stories had an unchanged vegetable intake.
In addition, Gripshover and Markman compared the framework to a teaching strategy based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) materials that emphasize the enjoyment of healthy eating and encouragement of trying new foods. Although both methods increased vegetable consumption, the Stanford study saw more positive results.
"What sets our materials apart from other approaches is the care we took to explain to children why their body needs different kinds of healthy food. We did not train children to eat more vegetables specifically," the researchers said.
More research is needed to find out whether the gains in healthy eating would translate to other mealtimes, including at home, and how long they last.
"There is no magic bullet to encourage healthy eating in young children," the researchers said. "We view our approach as unique but possibly complementary to other strategies. In the future, our concept-based educational materials could be combined with behaviorally focused nutrition interventions with the hope of boosting healthy eating more than either technique alone."
With obesity on a continued incline, and with the recent announcement made by the American Medical Association (AMA) putting obesity in the disease category, organizations, such as the USDA are making changes, especially for schools the younger population across the country.