'Hero foods' for Dudes

Eating broccoli can transform young children into superheroes, according to a healthy-eating scheme for young children that the southern Irish are raving about.

But the Food Dude Programme has not met with the same enthusiasm in Wales, where it was created and originally trialled.

The programme came out of a 10-year study at the University of Wales Bangor's psychology department. It has taken Ireland by storm and is being rolled out to all its primary schools by 2014.

It is also being touted as a way of motivating children to achieve other educational aims "by acting as a stimulus to fire the children's interest and imagination".

One Irish teacher, Neasa Ni Laore, said on a website for Food Dudes: "My lasting memory is of a boy and a girl who really did not like vegetables.

By the end of one week with the programme, vegetables were in their lunchboxes."

The psychology is the same as that used by junk food manufacturers, giving subliminal messages in adverts that eating greens can make you cooler.

Broccoli can suddenly become more appealing if a prize is attached, or if it is seen as a way of becoming more like children's cartoon-book role models.

"This is the first government to look at the programme and seriously evaluate it," said Food Dudes creator, Professor Fergus Lowe, from Bangor university. "We would now like to see others taking it up, and we would also like it adopted universally across Wales."

In the Irish pilot, children took considerably more food and vegetables to school in their lunchboxes than those in non-pilot settings. It also showed that all 17 vegetables and 19 fruits tested for boys and girls between the ages of two and 11 had "large and long-lasting increases in consumption".

The Food Dudes are four cartoon superheroes, Charlie, Raz, Rocco and Tom, who gain "life force" by eating fruit and vegetables. But the Assembly government says it already has healthy eating schemes in place.

"We have invested in initiatives to improve nutrition, including our free breakfast scheme, healthy vending machines, fruit tuck shops and the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes," said a spokeswoman.

Food Dude facts

Every parent in one of the Irish studies said their children benefited from taking part in the trials.

A total of 88 per cent noticed their children had increased their intake of either fruit, vegetables or both.

In all, 77 per cent of children had asked their parents to buy new types of fruitvegetables.

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