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Helping kids make healthier food choices

Want a way to get kids to choose healthier food? Make it look good and easy to grab, say researchers at Cornell University. Their study, published Friday in the Journal of Pediatrics, suggests that kids are more likely to choose healthy food if the presentation is appealing and it is within reach.

In 2012, the US Department of Agriculture required schools to substitute unhealthy foods with nutritious options, but that hasn’t guaranteed that students eat healthier. “We believe that when children take foods of their own volition, they’re more likely to eat them,” said Andrew Hanks, a research fellow at Cornell University and lead author of the study.

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Hanks and his colleagues used a behavioral principle called “libertarian paternalism,” to steer students toward a certain decision by making the desired — in this case, healthy — choice more accessible. They tweaked two middle and high school cafeterias in western New York without eliminating the less healthy options. Some of the changes included fresh fruit displayed in nice bowls next to the register and fruit juice boxes displayed in the freezer next to the ice cream.

After recording what the students chose for lunch, the researchers looked at waste left on nearly 3,000 lunch trays. They estimated that students were 16 percent more likely to eat a whole fruit serving and 10 percent more likely to eat a serving of vegetables after the lunchroom makeover.

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