Healthy habits for a healthy profit?

FI-Joe-PisaniA new study offers a solution to a problem that has plagued parents since M&M’S and Moon Pies were invented.

Throughout history, the great challenge has always been to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables instead of snacks. Why are we doing this? Because, as our grandmothers once all said, “They’re good for you,” although no one is quite sure why.

It’s difficult to convince young people that broccoli and Brussels sprouts are better than, say, Skittles and Little Debbie Zebra Cakes. Kids seem to naturally hate fruits and vegetables. (A little known fact: Students started giving apples to the teacher because they didn’t want to eat them themselves.)

Even Popeye the Sailor Man couldn’t persuade a generation of youngsters to eat spinach and develop more muscles than a pro-athlete on steroids.

Scientists, sociologists, mothers, and cafeteria workers have long grappled with this problem, but now there’s a ray of hope. Modern research, which gave us political polling, has found a solution. In what was probably a taxpayer-funded study, experts stumbled upon an innovative approach that is pure genius in its simplicity: Pay kids to eat fruits and vegetables.

Professors from Brigham Young University and Cornell said that paying kids increases consumption of fruits and vegetables at lunchtime, providing necessary nutrients as well as some extra money to buy tickets to a Katy Perry concert or the newest version of the Grand Theft Auto video game.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Human Resources and based on experiments in 15 schools, concluded that paying students increased vegetable consumption by 80% and decreased waste by 33%. Savings to the system could be significant because schools are serving $5.4 million more in fruits and vegetables every day, even though kids are throwing out what amounts to $3.8 million in produce.

These professors are revolutionizing the age-old tactic of “positive reinforcement” with cash payments. It’s like farm subsidies for elementary school students. Just think about the different applications. We could pay kids to stay off the cell phone — although we probably couldn’t pay them enough. Many of us already pay them to get good grades, which makes me wonder why we don’t we start giving them a salary.

In the corporate world, these are called “financial incentives,” and Wall Street bonuses have remarkable results … at least according to the Wolf of Wall Street.

Let’s not forget the rest of the nation. We could pay young Americans to sign up for Obamacare. We could pay old Americans to delay tapping into their Social Security. We could even pay people to vote — hey, they do that already.

This program has other economic benefits. The Obama administration could cut unemployment by creating a Cabinet-level agency called the Department of Homeland Fruits and Vegetables to monitor the rewards program. Even if it costs as much as the nearly bankrupt Social Security system, our youngsters will be healthy while they’re staring at video screens.

Why wasn’t there a program like this when I was a student? It’s a lot easier to make money by eating peas and carrots than mowing lawns. When I was in school, one thing that never sold in the cafeteria was an apple that had been rotating in the vending machine since the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. It may still be there, come to think of it.

A nerd in my school, who claimed eating snacks was against his religion, complained to the administration because there weren’t enough “healthful” choices. Pretty soon, plain yogurt and bananas replaced the beloved Fudgsicles and Twinkies.

I suspect this fellow later went to work for the Bloomberg administration, where he drafted laws banning Big Gulp and trans-fats, while the rest of us turned into perfectly normal adults who preferred cherry Danish and chocolate croissants to apples.

Sweets, you see, are an American way of life guaranteed under the Constitution unless you live in New York City. Even the people I see fondling the produce at Whole Foods often look like they’ve been sneaking some Twizzlers. Hey, I bet cash rewards can stop the obesity epidemic.


Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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