Each year, American kids spend more than $200 billion of their own money on snacks, toys, and other items, with those under twelve spending most of it on junk food, said Friedman School economist Sean Cash, an associate professor who has researched the buying habits of schoolchildren at corner stores. He and his colleagues recorded children purchasing an average of 480 daily calories worth of soda, chips, and candy bars—“more than a quarter of the calories they’re meant to eat in a day,” he said.

 In a USDA-funded intervention project known as CHOMPS (Coupons for Healthier Options for Minors Purchasing Snacks), Cash’s team looked at what happened when they offered Boston-area kids coupons for discounted produce and snacks that were lower in fat, salt, sugar, and calories than what the children usually picked.

 Did it work? “The kids did use the coupons, though not as much as we would have liked,” Cash said. “When we offered the coupons, the sales of fruits and vegetables went up tenfold, from a fraction of a percent, to more than 3 percent.” On CHOMPS days, the kids’ purchases were overall lower in total fat and calories, and higher in fiber and vitamins A and C. All in all, Cash hopes a project like CHOMPS can motivate kids to think about their behavior as consumers—and teach them to make good food choices when adults aren’t around.

Helene Ragovin

Helene Ragovin, senior writer at Tufts and editor of Tufts Dental Medicine, can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu.