University of Bath

Incentives and children's dietary choices: a field experiment in primary schools

An IPR Policy Brief examining the use of incentives to change health behaviours, especially of children.

There is a growing interest from both academics and policy makers in the use of incentives to change health behaviours, especially of children. In October 2011, Michèle Belot (University of Edinburgh), Jonathan James (University of Bath) and Patrick Nolen (University of Essex) carried out a randomised controlled field experiment in 31 schools across England. The aim was to assess the effect of schemes that reward children with stickers, small toys and stationery for choosing fruit and vegetables at lunch time.

Although results differ by age, gender and socio-economic background, the research found that the incentives increased the choice and consumption of fruit and vegetables, particularly among the group who were previously identified as not regularly eating fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, structuring the incentives as a competition had a greater and long-lasting effect on behaviour than rewarding based solely on individual choices.