Improve Kids' Nutrition With Incentives

Improve Kids' Nutrition With Incentives

Wimpy was a character in the Popeye cartoon, who “would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” (Not long ago Wimpy made a cameo appearance in the Family Guy episode titled McStroke.) The chances of getting paid on Tuesday, however, were worse than hitting the lottery.

But eating hamburgers and hoping to hit the lottery have more in common than Wimpy and strokes. Science. After McMarketers found that offering children a toy with their meals made them McCrazy for kiddie fast-food, some clever university researchers turned the tables. They went McOpposite and found when kids—and adults—are offered the choice between a big ‘ole juicy hamburger and a smaller hamburger accompanied by a toy, prize or just the chance to win $10, folks opt for the smaller burger and toy almost every time.

Why? Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the university researchers found offering someone a small prize or even an uncertain, lottery-type incentive activates the same reward center in the brain that food does.

So, if you’re trying to upgrade your kids’ nutrition, see if a small incentive (an origami bird or a sticker) plus a serving of green beans doesn’t beat out fried potatoes. And we hope fast food restaurants will help their customers choose healthier menu items by offering those who order an entree salad, say, a toy train symbolizing how that tasty meal arrived in front of you! 

Medically reviewed in September 2018.

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