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Best way to make kids eat healthy is to say nothing, study finds

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POSTED: June 12, 2014 1:16 p.m.
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Kids chose to eat more healthy foods when they weren’t told anything about them, according to researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

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CHICAGO — When it comes to getting kids to open their mouths for healthy foods, parents would do best to shut theirs, according to a new study.
Kids chose to eat more healthy foods when they weren’t told anything about them, according to researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Children in the study ate fewer healthy crackers when they were told the snacks were good for them or delicious.
“You just need to give them the food,” study co-author Ayelet Fishbach told The New York Times. “You mess them up by giving all kinds of messages.”
In the study, 270 preschoolers were read a picture book about a girl who had a snack. The kids were divided into three different groups and were either told the character ate the wheat crackers because they were good for her or because they were "yummy" or were told nothing except that the girl ate them.
After hearing the story, the children were presented with an opportunity to eat the crackers. Those who weren’t told anything about the crackers ate nine on average, compared with 7.2 if they heard they were tasty or three if they heard they were healthy.
"The preschoolers seem to think that food can’t serve two purposes, that it can't be something that makes them healthier and something that is delicious to eat at the same time," Fishbach said in a statement. "So telling them that the carrots will make them grow tall (or make them smarter) actually makes them not want to eat the carrots. If you want them to eat the carrots, you should just give the kids the carrots and either mention that they are tasty or just say nothing."
When the study was replicated using carrots, researchers found the same results, according to the Times.
The study, titled "If It's Useful and You Know it, Do You Eat? Preschoolers Refrain from Instrumental Food," will be published in the October issue of the journal Consumer Research.

 

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