Stick or carrot: what does it take to get today's children to eat their greens?

Children would rather forfeit hobbies such as reading, playing with computer games and listening to music than eat up their vegetables, according to a MORI poll commissioned by the Cancer Research Campaign and frozen food giants Iceland. But the poll also shows that the majority of 7-12 year-olds will accept a bribe to get them to eat their greens if the stakes are high enough.

Children would rather forfeit hobbies such as reading, playing with computer games and listening to music than eat up their vegetables, according to a MORI poll commissioned by the Cancer Research Campaign and frozen food giants Iceland. But the poll also shows that the majority of 7-12 year-olds will accept a bribe to get them to eat their greens if the stakes are high enough.

Despite the reluctance of children to improve their diets, it's still parents who wield most power. Nearly half say that, if anyone could persuade them to eat their vegetables, it would be mum or dad. Yet, previous research conducted on behalf of the charity and Iceland has shown that many of today's parents have very pressured lives and would rather back down than engage in a battle at the dinner table.

The MORI research shows that children are open to bribes by parents to get them to eat unpopular vegetables by using popular activities as a proverbial carrot. And the activity that is most likely to induce children to comply is to see their favourite band in concert.

Yet, although the Spice Girls are everywhere these days, only 4% say the five singers could persuade them to eat their greens. And even popular footballers like David Beckham or Ryan Giggs would only be able to convince a tiny 1 of the benefits of vegetables.

Gordon McVie, Director General of the Campaign says "the findings prove that kids are sophisticated opponents in the battle many parents have to wage in order to get them to eat their veg. But unless children can be convinced of the value of eating healthily, there is a very real danger that they are laying themselves open to illness as adults. Many kids probably think they have the upper hand at the dinner table and, on the war against bad diets and we urge parents to rethink their tea time strategies in order to get their kids to eat more veg".

The research shows that the most unpopular vegetables are carrots, potatoes, sweetcorn and cauliflower but, worryingly, those vegetables which scientists believe have the highest nutritional value (broccoli, brussel sprouts and spinach) generally get the thumbs down. Adds Malcolm Walker CBE, Chairman of Iceland "our new research makes clear the need for more education in this crucial area as many children and parents seem unaware of the role vegetables can play in improving health. "We welcome the Campaign's initiatives in this area and cll upon others in the food indutry to take more radical and innovative approach to the challenge of educating young people about the need for, and the pleasures of, eating healthier diets".

Technical details: MORI interviewed 437 children aged 7-12 across 51 sampling points in Great Britain. Interviews were carried out face-to-face, in home between 16-26 January 1998 and the results were weighted to reflect the population profile.

More insights about Culture