April 17, 2013

Kids more likely to eat apples when fruit is sliced

Most moms know that cutting fruit makes it much easier for their children to eat. Why don’t school cafeterias follow suit?

Results from a pilot study conducted in eight elementary schools in the same district show that apple sales in elementary schools jumped by an average of 61 percent when the fruit was sliced. The study is published in the May issue of theAmerican Journal of Preventative Medicine.

The schools were asked to use a commercial fruit slicer whenever students requested apples, a process that cut the fruit into six pieces in three to four seconds.

Slicing fruit works so well because children love to eat fruit in ready-to-eat, bite-sized pieces, says Professor Brian Wansink, the lead author of the study and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Center). Children dislike eating fruit because of braces or missing teeth, or because eating a large fruit is too inconvenient. Older girls report that it is too “unattractive-looking” to eat whole fruit in front of others.

To confirm the study’s preliminary findings, cafeterias in three middle schools in the same district sliced apples for students while three middle schools did not. To assess actual consumption, trained field researchers recorded how much of the apple was wasted by counting the number of slices thrown away by each student.

Apple sales in schools with fruit slicers increased by 71 percent compared with the control schools, the researchers report.

“More importantly, we found that the percentage of students who ate more than half of their apple increased by 73 percent,” says Wansink.

“This study shows that making fruit easier to eat encourages more children to select it and to eat more of it,” he concludes. “With an initial investment of just $200, fruit slicers constitute a means for school cafeterias not only to encourage fruit consumption among students but also to prevent food waste.”

The study, “Pre-Sliced Fruit in School Cafeterias: Children’s Selection and Intake,” was co-authored by associate professor David Just, co-director of the Cornell BEN Center, postdoctoral research fellow Andrew Hanks and doctoral student Laura Smith.  

The study was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Joanna Ladzinski ’14 and Brooke Pearson ’13 are research assistants for the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.