Emoticons on Food Help Students Choose Healthier Meals


A study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego, CA reveals that smiley faces on product packaging and meal choice prizes could help children choose wholesome, nutritious foods at the school cafeteria.

The study suggests that the seemingly simple act of having Green Smiley Faced emoticons on food labels appeals to children urging them to consider a healthier lunch choice at school.

The intervention study that took place at an inner Cincinnati public school involved 297 kindergarten to sixth-grade students. During the first study phase, scientists introduced smiley faces on food labeling and in the second phase they offered small prizes to reward students that chose the more wholesome lunch option consisting of four healthy foods in total.

During the first experiment scientists labeled milk, fruit and vegetables with smiley faces. Children’s exposure to the smiley faces increased the selection of plain white fat free milk and vegetables.

The consumption of fruit increased by 20% and the consumption of vegetables by 62%. The most dramatic increase was for low fat milk, which had a consumption increase of 549%.  Chocolate milk selection dropped from 86.5% to 44.6% during the five-month period researchers were observing the lunch choices of the students.

During the second phase of the experiment the scientists introduced the Power Plate, a meal suggestion that consisted of four healthy parts and that was accompanied with a small prize, a sticker, a mini beach ball or a temporary tattoo. The selection of the nutritious Power Plate increased by 335%. The researchers were satisfied with their findings:

“It looks like we found a very promising, low-cost and effective way of improving the nutrition of elementary school children. This type of programme may be a useful component in schools trying to improve the nutrition and health of their students.”

A similar study with a chef-at-school intervention had similarly promising findings. The Harvard study published in JAMA Pediatrics examined how chef-enhanced healthy meals can appeal better to students.

The school chefs during a seven-month intervention incorporated whole grains, fresh and frozen produce as well as seasoning without added salt or sugar to make school meals more palatable. The researchers compared consumption choices of the chef-enhanced meals and the consumption standard meals and their findings reveal that making healthy foods more appetizing influences students’ eating habits:

“The percentage of vegetables within the meals consumed by students went up to 59.7% in the chef-enhanced program, which compares with a vegetable consumption of 28.9% in the standard school program,” Medical News Today reports.

As the researchers highlight, it took a seventh-month exposure to the chef-enhanced meals for the students to start considering making a change.