What kids think their peers are eating may matter for how many vegetables they’re eating, suggests a new study. The study was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity and could have an impact for cancer prevention decades later. Healthy eating habits can reduce risk of kids being overweight adults, and excess body fat is a cause of ten cancers for adults.
For this small study, 143 children ages 6-11 were recruited from North-West England and brought in individually for what they thought was a study of game-playing ability.
Children were shown a participant information sheet of six fictitious previous participants that included general information as well as the amount of carrots each child ate during the session. The carrots column either read “all” (high intake group), “none” (low intake group); the column was blank or omitted in two control groups. Children were also presented with a bowl. The bowl contained one carrot in the high intake group, was nearly full of carrots in the low intake group, and was filled with pens for the control groups.
Researchers pointed out the sheet and bowl to participants and explained the carrot intake of the previous children in the high and low groups.
Children were then given a bowl of carrots and told they could eat as much or as little as they wanted. After 7 minutes, researchers removed the bowls to analyze intake.
Children who were told that previous participants ate all the carrots ate significantly more than the other groups. No difference in carrot intake was seen among the other groups. When asked about how many carrots they thought other children in the study had eaten, those in the high intake group reported significantly more and those in the low intake group reported significantly less.
These results suggest that when children think their peers eat more vegetables, they are more likely to eat more vegetables themselves.
It is important to note that this study only looked at carrot intake, a generally kid-friendly vegetable, and may not be true for other vegetables. This study was also specific to intake during this study visit and may not translate to increased usual intake. Future studies are needed.
One of the study authors was partly supported by the Wellcome Trust.