Teaching kids about nutrition pays off
WHAT is the best way to get your kid to eat more vegetables? Smother the broccoli in sauce, cut the cucumber into fun shapes or ban dessert until he has eaten the spinach?
A new study reveals what could be the best approach - just teach them about nutrition.
Scientists from Stanford University in the United States have found that even very young children can benefit from a conceptual framework that helps them understand why eating a variety of foods is healthy. The result? Kids eat more vegetables by choice.
"Children naturally have curiosity - they want to understand why and how things work," the researchers explained.
"Of course, we need to simplify materials for young children, but oversimplification robs them of the opportunity to learn and advance their thinking."
Researchers Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman developed five storybooks aimed at revising what children already know about various nutrition-related themes, such as dietary variety, digestion, food groups and nutrients.
In the study involving more than 160 children aged four or five, the researchers assigned some pre-school classes to read nutrition books during snack time for about three months, while other classes were assigned to conduct snack time as usual. Later, the children were asked questions about nutrition.
The study found that children in the classes where the books were read were more likely to understand that food had nutrients, and that different kinds of nutrients were important for various bodily functions (even functions that were not mentioned in the books).
They were also more knowledgeable about digestive processes, understanding, for example, that the stomach breaks down food and blood carries nutrients.
These children also more than doubled their voluntary intake of vegetables during snack time after the three-month intervention, whereas the amount that the control group ate stayed about the same.
Further research is needed to determine whether conceptual intervention encourages healthy eating habits outside of snack time, and whether it is effective over the long term, the researchers said.