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Debit Cards Tied to Higher Calorie Consumption for Kids

Update Date: Jan 18, 2014 09:38 AM EST

When making food choices, using cash or card can play a huge factor for children. In a new study, researchers examined the relationship between money and calories consumed within the school cafeteria. The researchers found that children who are given cash to pay for school lunch tend to make healthier food choices and end up eating fewer calories.

"Kids are much, much, much more likely to take desserts and are much less likely to take fruits and vegetables [with their debit cards]," behavioral economist Brian Wansink from Cornell University stated reported by NPR. "In contrast to that, in schools where kids are paying cash, kids not only buy a lot more fruit but they also buy a lot less dessert."

For this study, Wansink worked with David Just and tracked the behaviors of 2,300 students from 287 schools throughout the nation. The participants were in grades one through 12. The researchers found that children who were given debit cards were more likely to end up overeating. Children who used cash were three times more likely to buy vegetables. They also consumed around 10 percent fewer calories.

The researchers reasoned that since debit or credit cards are more abstract than bills, people might not be as worried or as concerned about their actions. By using cards, the financial pressures are pushed into the future. The researchers believe that this attitude could translate over to eating as well.

"What I put in my mouth doesn't actually matter, because those consequences are also far off in the future," Wansink explained.

In the report, Wansink provided some suggestions in preventing students from making unhealthy choices. He stated that schools could sell snacks and desserts as cash-only items whereas fruits and vegetable could be purchased with a debit card. Wansink also recommended placing items, such as cookies, out of reach, forcing children to ask for the cookies. Oftentimes, young children are in a hurry and would rather join their friends than waste seconds on getting a cookie.

"When we put cookies behind the lunch line so that kids have to ask cafeteria workers to pass it to them, cookie sales dropped dramatically," Wansink said. "In some cases [it was] as much as 50 percent, simply because a kid has to wait for 10 seconds to say, 'Can you please hand me a cookie?'"

The findings were published in Obesity.

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