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Photo: Cartoon characters in a shot from the Teen Choice: Food and Fitness videos. Image courtesy of Archimage, Houston, Texas.
Smart and sometimes funny cartoon characters in Teen Choice: Food and Fitness videos may help real-life teens eat more veggies, according to an ARS-funded study. Image courtesy of Archimage Inc. Houston, Texas.

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Fun, Friendly Website Helps Teens Eat More Veggies

By Marcia Wood
October 22, 2014

Videos featuring animated-cartoon teens learning about nutrition may help real-life teens eat more veggies, according to a study by scientists funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The smart and sometimes funny cartoon teens appear in short videos that are part of the experimental, science-based "Teen Choice: Food and Fitness" website. Nutrition and behavioral science researchers Karen W. Cullen and Deborah J. Thompson of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas, and Richard Buday and colleagues at Archimage, Inc., also in Houston, created the site in collaboration with hundreds of 'tween and teen volunteers.

Featured in the October 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, the site was developed to motivate adolescents to make better food choices and to be less sedentary.

The scientists first sought the input of some 100 young volunteers who shared their ideas about how to make the site easy to navigate, informative and relevant.

In follow-up research, 400 teen volunteers were asked to visit the site at least once a week for 8 weeks, peruse its information about food and nutrition, set a nutrition or fitness goal, and check their progress weekly.

The volunteers' log-on rate averaged 75 percent—regarded as "high" for an education-focused Internet site, according to Cullen.

Also, more of the volunteers who had access to the site's interactive features—including the cartoon videos and a blog—reported eating three or more servings of veggies in the past week than did volunteers whose access didn't include these and other interactive options. That's important, because getting kids to eat more veggies is apparently more difficult than getting them to eat more servings of fruit, for instance.

The scientists, who hope to make the website publicly available, documented their research in peer-reviewed articles published in 2012 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and in 2013 in Health Education Journal.

The Children's Nutrition Research Center is a joint venture of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital—both in Houston—and ARS, which is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

The studies support the USDA priority of enhancing children's health and nutrition, and were funded by ARS and USDA National Research Initiative grant #2007-55215-17998.