UW-Eau Claire students study effects on children’s health

Study shows most kids get fruits and vegetables in school lunchrooms



Story by Emily Albrent, News Editor

For healthy growth in children, many parents turn to encourage young ones to eat their fruits and vegetables.

UW-Eau Claire students tested whether incentives make a difference in how children view these food groups. The study involved youths ages 7 to 17 who attended an after-school program on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from September 2012 to December 2012 and January 2013 to May 2013.

Associate professor in economics Eric Jamelske is the faculty mentor for the research and director of the Chippewa Valley Center for Economic Research and Development.

“Since 2006, I have always had six or eight students working on some kind of project where we collect data and evaluate students’ consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Jamelske said.

Jamelske said the group concluded kids don’t mind eating fruits and vegetables. But most of them get their fruits and vegetables during school and not a lot from home.

He said students preferred  fruits because they were sweeter than vegetables. And children often asked for dip for vegetables which means higher calories.

Tiffany Christner, senior actuarial science major, said she had a class with Jamelske her first semester at the university where he spoke about his research project.

“I have always had a particular interest in health and nutrition being a very athletic person growing up and living with a family who did a lot of gardening and around fresh fruits and vegetables,” Christner said.

She said she became a part of this project because she was interested in seeing how children picked fruits and vegetables. She said based on the study, incentives matter.

“They do make a difference,” Christner said. “Just encouragement and praise can make just as much as a difference as offering a kid a cookie or something of monetary value.”

But organizing the project was tough, Christner said.

“Trying to keep everything straight is probably the most challenging aspect, because in total there were 181 who participated in the study, so trying to keep track of all of their names and how much they ate of each different food item was interesting,” Christner said.

Students couldn’t identify clementines, but when they were offered the fruit, they said they had eaten them before.

“They all knew what it was, and they all liked them, but they just knew them by the name, Cutie, so that was really funny for us,” Christner said.

She said it was also amusing introducing the children to fruits and vegetables they have never had before.

“My personal favorite was pomegranate, all the children were scared because they thought it looked weird, once we showed them how to eat it and they made faces and then their eyes got really big and said, ‘wow this tastes really good,’” Christner said.

Lainee Hoffman, senior and biology and psychology major at Eau Claire said they have done a lot of different studies regarding incentives.

“Are main goal for the project is the increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption, and basically we are just trying to find the best, cheapest most effective and practical way to increase their consumption and we figure some form of incentives is the way that is going to happen,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said essentially every time they have used incentives they have had a positive effect.

“We have found it works better in the school setting apposed to the after school setting program,” Hoffman said.

They have found that teacher support and parent support is very important to the incentive process.

“Incentives that we usually use are something as simple as a sticker on a wall chart in the classroom when you try a new fruit or vegetable or bring one from home that with fourth and fifth graders works,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said they have also tried raffles with $15 or $20 dollar prizes and looks at a wide range of incentives.

This ongoing research project isn’t ending just yet. Christner said next year they are hoping to get into some schools in Menomonie and study their lunch time salad bar consumption, but that is all still in the process of being put together.