Science - March 15, 2016

Learning about vegetables does not affect eating behaviour

Didi de Vries

Primary school children that learn about healthy food have a better understanding of what healthy food is. In order to change their eating behavior, a more intensive programme is needed which reaches beyond the classroom.

Photo: Erik de Redelijkheid

This was stated by Marieke Battjes-Fries in her thesis which she defended on Friday.

Battjes-Fries researched the effects of ‘taste lessons’ (Smaaklessen). This included six lessons on topics such as flavour development, healthy food or food production. In 45 minutes children receive an introduction, an activity and a concluding group discussion. They learn about organic agriculture and taste organic and non-organic apples. The curriculum ‘taste lessons’ was developed by the Voedingscentrum (Nutrition Centre) and Wageningen University.

Battjes-Fries followed 1010 children from year 5 and 6 of 34 primary schools in Gelderland. The schools were divided in two intervention groups and one control room. The ‘taste lessons’ were given at 11 schools. At another 11 schools these were supplemented with practical experience, such as gardening and buying groceries. The other 12 schools were the control group and did not provide ‘taste lessons’. Before and at the end of the academic year the children completed a survey testing their knowledge on vegetables and consumption. For example, they were asked if they enjoyed tasting unknown vegetables.

Children from both intervention groups were found to know more about nutrition and healthy food.

Also the fear of trying unfamiliar food – food neophobia in technical terms – was researched. In an additional experiment Battjes-Fries asked the children to taste familiar and unfamiliar vegetables.

Children from both intervention groups were found to know more about nutrition and healthy food. The extra practical lessons of the second intervention group further increased their knowledge. However, the additional experiments showed that after the ‘taste lessons’ the children ate the same amount of vegetables as before. Thus they do not apply the knowledge in practice.

‘Eating is an integral part of our lives, we do it every day’, says Battjes-Fries. ‘To be able to change the eating patterns of children, you would need to take into account everything surrounding the child. Which you cannot achieve in a class of five hours.’ A more extensive curriculum is needed for this, the PhD student concluded, in which the parents and social environment of the child are involved.