The BYU Veggie Project was a USDA-funded project that examined various approaches to encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables. We found several very effective approaches including: increasing the variety of fruits and vegetables offered at lunch, moving recess before lunch, providing fruit smoothies for breakfast, using a veggie cart at lunch, and providing a small reward to children who eat fruits and vegetables for lunch.
We measured the effect of each of these approaches using a special iphone/ipod app that we developed, making it easy to record how many servings of fruits or vegetables each child ate and how many were thrown away (we collected the data right where the students dump return their trays at the end of lunch). Using this app, we collected data on over 485,000 child-day observations. The app is easy to use and available for free on the Apple App Store (vproject). See our Data Collection tab for more information on how to use the app.
One innovative aspect of our project is that we partnered with the PTA at each school to help collect the data and carry out the experiment. This allowed us to extend our research projects beyond what our research assistants at BYU could do during lunch. We provided funding to the PTA for helping us with this data collection. The PTA members played a huge role in the veggie token experiment.
For two years we implemented a small rewards program at 40 elementary schools in Utah. Students at participating schools received a small veggie coin each day that they ate at least one serving of fruits or vegetables. Students could spend these coins at a school store, book fair, or school carnival. Schools were randomly assigned to have the program in place for either three or five weeks. We found that the small rewards more than doubled the fraction of children eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. The fraction of children eating a serving of fruits and vegetables decreased once the rewards were removed but settled at a rate of about 30% higher than before. This sustained behavior was even larger at schools where the rewards were in place longer, suggesting that short-run efforts to improve healthy eating can lead to long-run changes in behavior. We are very grateful to all of the schools that participated in our rewards program.