What if watching a video could lead to better nutrition for kids?

It just might if the video shows youngsters eating vegetables.

That’s right: watching kids snacking on bell peppers had more preschoolers trying it themselves, according to a study from researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

The finding could help children develop healthy habits and fend off childhood obesity and poor health as they age, said Amanda Staiano, a pediatric obesity and health behavior researcher at Pennington.

“We know that eating preferences are established pretty early on and they tend to track over time,” Staiano said. “As children grow up, if kids are not exposed to these foods and eating these foods on a regular basis, they are less likely to eat vegetables later on in life.”

One-third of preschool-aged children don’t eat any vegetables, Staiano said. Previous studies have found that children will eat more vegetables after they witness their peers eating them, but Staiano wondered if kids’ television and computer habits could help solve the problem.

“We’re trying to figure out, ‘Is there a way to get screens and technology to get kids to eat more vegetables and eat healthier?’ ” she said.

If youngsters ate more fruits and vegetables, that could help decrease rising childhood obesity rates. In Louisiana, about one-third of all children ages 10 to 17 are obese or overweight, according to the National Child Policy Research Center. Childhood obesity often leads to a higher likelihood of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other adult diseases.

Staiano, who studies the effects of technology and video screens on health, devised a study to find out just how much influence videos would have on a youngster.

At two Baton Rouge-area childcare centers, researchers divided 3- and 4-year-old children into three groups. One watched a seven-minute video of an ethnically diverse group of children enjoying bell peppers and another viewed a DVD about brushing their teeth. The third group just sat and watched nothing.

In the vegetable video, the children enjoy the bell pepper, smiling and laughing — one little girl makes a train track out of her bell pepper slices before eating them. There’s no dialogue or voice overs from an adult narrator, just a “cute little bird that comes in to tie the scenes together,” Staiano said.

After watching the video, researchers offered all the children their choice of snacks — Cheerios or slices of bell pepper — and asked them to rate the bell pepper on a scale from a frowning face to a happy face.

They offered the children the same snack choice the next day and again a week later. Staiano said researchers saw no change in their snack choices immediately after the video or the following day.

But a week later, the kids who watched the video ate more bell pepper and claimed to like it more. Studies on children’s behavior say that makes sense, Staiano said.

“Behavioral theory says it takes children a little bit of time to process what they’ve seen when someone is modeling a behavior and then to actually reproduce that action,” Staiano said.

Children who watched the video ate about an eighth of a cup more bell pepper — an amount Staiano calls “significant” and “exciting” — instead of eating Cheerios.

In the future, Staiano said, child care centers could show videos that encourage healthy eating, or public service announcements during television commercial breaks could feature kids enjoying vegetables.

“We know children are watching TV and using screens,” Staiano said, adding now the questions becomes: “Are there some positive health messages we can intersperse throughout the program?”