The UK has one of the lowest fruit and vegetable intakes in Europe, and as a consequence, Britain now has one of the worst heart disease records in the world. Obesity is also on the increase. Children, in particular, are eating too much junk food, and now the government is trying to do something about it.
Schoolkids are being inspired to eat more fruit and vegetables by new cartoon superheroes, called "Food Dudes," who get their powers whenever they eat their greens — or choose fruit over fries.
Can a television program be far behind?
A large-scale roll out of the Food Dude Program, developed by psychologists at the University of Wales, Bangor, is currently taking place in the Republic of Ireland. The three-year project, ending in September 2008, enrolled a total of 30,000 children from each of the 150 primary schools across Ireland.
In the classroom, children become familiar with the ‘Food Dudes’ via six, six-minute video episodes. The Food Dudes themselves are young superheroes who are involved in saving the ‘Life Force’ from the ‘Junk Punks,’ who plot to take away the energy of the world by depriving it of fruit and vegetables. The children watch the Dudes getting the better of the Punks in a series of video adventures. They see the Dudes eating and enjoying a range of fruit and vegetables whilst extolling their health-giving properties and taste, and see that these eating choices are part and parcel of the Dude's winning strategy. The videos urge the children to be like the heroic Food Dudes and keep the Life Force strong by eating fruit and vegetables.
Small rewards (ranging from stickers and certificates to a variety of Food Dude prizes) give the children the incentive to follow the Food Dudes' healthy eating advice and ensure that children get enough repeated tastes of the foods to begin liking them for their own intrinsic qualities.
Once children begin to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables, they need do so in as many contexts as possible. The Food Dude Homepack has been designed to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables at home through a system of self-monitoring.