A new research study by Aston and Loughborough Universities has detailed the ‘three Rs’ — Repetition, Role Modelling and Rewards, which may combat the fussy eating habits of children. Some parents battle to feed their children an appropriate diet and like new vegetables. Only 20% of the children in the UK eat the recommended 5 vegetable a day serving. A child repeatedly exposed to certain food (‘repetition’), eating it first and show them how tasty it is (‘role modelling’) and praising them for trying it (‘rewards’), can help positively change their child’s attitude to the food. A recent survey conducted by the BBC found that half of all children in the UK aged between seven and 12 do not eat fruit or vegetables every day.
“Not eating enough fruits and vegetables is one of the main risk factors for global mortality. Eating more fruits and vegetables could prevent numerous cancers, stroke, diabetes and obesity, said Dr Claire Farrow, of the Aston Research Centre for Child Health. “It can be very challenging for families to encourage their children to eat a healthy, balanced diet as children naturally go through stages during their toddler years when they are often fussy and will refuse new foods, particularly vegetables. This is a normal developmental stage for children, but it can often lead to a restricted diet as children become fussier and fussier about what they will not eat. Families need evidence-based scientific advice about what they can do to help encourage children to taste, and eventually like, new or disliked fruits and vegetables.”
“Our research shows that a combination of repeatedly exposing children to vegetables, rewarding them for trying the food and modelling enjoying eating the vegetable yourself, can help to encourage children to taste and eventually like vegetables which they did not previously like eating. Eating behaviours have been shown to track throughout childhood and into adulthood — so it is vitally important that children are exposed to fruits and vegetables early in life to inform healthy eating as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.”
The research participants consisted of 115 children aged between two and four took who took part in the research. The children were differentiated into four separate groups and given the same vegetable to taste every day for 14 days. Each group was exposed to a different combination of ‘food intervention’ techniques; repeated exposure; role modelling and repeated exposure; rewards and repeated exposure or the ‘three Rs’: role modelling, repeated exposure and rewards. The amount of vegetabled consumed by each child was measured at study’s conclusion.
Parents were involved in the study and the children were introduced to vegetables in their home. The research findings specified that the group of children introduced to the ‘three Rs’ or ‘two Rs’ (rewards and repeated exposure) showed significant increases in the amount of vegetable they would eat and in their liking for the previously disliked vegetable. Children exposed to the ‘three R’s ate an average of 4g of the vegetable, compared to 0.6g before the start of the investigation.
Clare E. Holley, Emma Haycraft, Claire Farrow. ‘Why don’t you try it again?’ A comparison of parent led, home based interventions aimed at increasing children’s consumption of a disliked vegetable. Appetite, 2015; 87: 215 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.12.216