According to a new study, a digital display to feature daily menu items can encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
If given the choice between eating a salad loaded with veggies or a burger and fries most kids, and for that matter most adults, would likely pick the less healthful option. But instead of telling kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, Iowa State University researchers found the trick may be to convince them visually.
Laura Smarandescu, an assistant professor of marketing, and Brian Mennecke, an associate professor of information systems at, did just that using a digital display featuring a rotating image of a salad along with menu information. They found salad consumption among kids increased as much as 90 percent when a digital display showed a rotating image of the salad. The results are from a field study conducted in July at the YMCA of Greater Des Moines camp in Boone. The camp is for children with diabetes, ages 6-12.
Campers were offered a nutritionally balanced daily menu, which included foods like tacos, sloppy joes, fruits and vegetables and had the additional option of a salad bar. The kitchen staff weighed the salad bar items before and after each meal to calculate how much was consumed. The digital sign had the greatest appeal among boys at the camp, who were 50 to 70 percent more likely to serve themselves lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots when the digital display showcased a vivid picture of a salad.
"The cool effect that we found and didn't expect was with boys," Smarandescu said. "It makes sense because boys like video games and interact more with technology. We noticed many boys stopping to look at the display and their behavior seemed to be more influenced by the presence of the display."
The results from the field study mirror what Smarandescu and Mennecke discovered in the lab. When given the choice between a still photo of a particular food or a rotating image, participants in the lab opted for the rotating menu item. Mennecke said the studies show the influence of environmental cues and images on consumer behavior.
"The more vivid the image, in terms of movement, color and accuracy of representation, the more realistic, the more it's going to stimulate your response to it," Mennecke said. "You respond to the image on the display like you would respond to a plate in front of you. If you're hungry you respond by saying, 'I'll have what's in that picture.'"