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Study: Marketing vegetables in cafeterias increases consumption :

July 5, 2016

Vegetables in school cafeterias might not get the cold shoulder if they had a better marketing campaign, a new study found.

The number of students adding produce to their plates more than tripled when students were exposed to both banners and TV segments with vegetable characters, according to “Marketing Vegetables in Elementary School Cafeterias to Increase Uptake” (Hanks AS, et al. Pediatrics. July 5, 2016,

Previous studies have found children can be influenced to eat vegetables by peer pressure, attractive serving bowls and being paid. However, researchers wanted to take a closer look at marketing techniques.

Ten elementary schools in a large urban district in the northeastern U.S. were randomly assigned to a control group or one of three groups exposed to marketing. One marketing group saw vinyl banners with vegetable cartoon characters on the cafeteria’s salad bar that had slogans like “Get your super power here.” Another saw short TV segments near the salad bar with vegetable characters talking up nutrition while the third group saw both the banners and TV segments.

The researchers collected baseline data for the first two weeks and implemented marketing campaigns in the following four weeks, collecting a total of 22,206 student-day observations.

The number of students taking vegetables jumped 90.5% (from 12.6% to 24%) when they were exposed to the banner alone and 239.2% (from 10.2% to 34.6%) for those exposed to the banner and TV segments. Vegetable consumption did not change significantly for the group watching TV segments alone or the control group.

Girls seemed to be influenced by the banner and the combination of the banner and TV segments, while the number of boys eating vegetables increased only with the banners. Boys initially responded to the combination, but the effect seemed to wear off after the first two weeks of exposure.

More research is needed on long-term effects and whether marketing in school impacts behavior at home, the authors said. But they said the results show marketing “can be leveraged in a positive way.”

“With childhood nutrition as the ultimate goal, the synergistic combination of marketing strategies and healthy choices has great potential for improving what children take and eat, both in and out of school,” they wrote.

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