Giving Kids the 411 on Nutrition

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Kids may eat more veggies if they are taught how the body uses them

August 15, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) While kids may not be big fans of vegetables, there may be a way to get them to eat their veggies anyway.

A recent study found that after they were given a more detailed explanation of what happens to food after it enters the body, kids ate more vegetables at snack time.

The researchers noted that their findings were promising, considering that children were not told to eat more vegetables as a part of the intervention.

"Speak to your child's pediatrician about ways to explain nutrition."

This study was led by Sarah Gripshover, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at Stanford University.

The research team examined children's initial knowledge about the relationship between the body and food, identified the prior knowledge needed for children to understand how food serves as a source of nutrition and taught children a theory about how food is able to offer a wide variety of nutrients.

This study included 59 4- and 5-year-old preschool children. Two preschool classes were randomly assigned to the intervention group (total of 30 children), and two classes were randomly assigned to the comparison group (total of 29 children).

The researchers used the example of sugar mixed in water as an analogy to explain nutrients in food. They explained that just like dissolved sugar in water, you cannot see nutrients in food, but they are there. 

Children were taught that after food enters the body, the stomach breaks it into smaller pieces, takes the nutrients from those pieces, and then the nutrients are carried throughout the body by the blood.

To stress the importance of eating a variety of foods, the researchers explained that the body has many functions and that each function requires a different combination of nutrients.

The researchers discussed food groups with children, explaining that foods within the same food group had similar but not identical nutrients.

All of this information was presented in a series of five storybooks that used kid-friendly language, colored pictures and interactive questions. These books were read to children up to 2 times per week for 10-12 weeks.

The researchers found that children who listened to the five storybooks were more likely to understand that it would be unhealthy to eat just one food, compared to children in the control group.

When asked what is inside of food, 89 percent of children in the intervention group said nutrients compared to only 15 percent in the comparison group.

The researchers also found that 63 percent of children in the intervention group noted that blood had a role in carrying nutrients, compared to only 14 percent of the comparison group.

The researchers repeated the experiment with 103 children: 53 in the intervention group and 50 in the comparison group. This time the comparison group received the United States Department of Agriculture's Team Nutrition Materials, which emphasize the enjoyment of healthy eating and exercise, and encourage children to try new healthy foods.

The researchers noted similar results to those found in their first experiment. They found that children in the intervention group increased their vegetable intake by 6.15 pieces, while children in the comparison group only increased their vegetable intake by 2.08 pieces.

The study authors noted that children can benefit from a deeper understanding of how food serves as a source of nutrients.

Deborah Gordon, MD, a nutrition and preventive medicine expert not associated with the study told daily RX news, "With remarkably little instruction, the children in the intervention group grasped some key elements about the nutritional value of foods...With a little understanding, they demonstrated appreciation of the value of nutrient dense and complex vegetables, everyone's favorite food group." 

"Children's acceptance of vegetables are a particular interest of mine, as both children and small farms benefit from kids choosing carrots! I have recently learned that farm tours increase a child's preference for vegetables, but until farm to school programs are in every district, it's comforting to learn that a little in-class instruction time can yield a similar benefit," said Dr. Gordon.

This study was published on August 9 in Psychological Science.

The study authors reported no competing interests.