School cashless payments promote sales of unhealthy food, researchers say

Cornell behavioral economists' study show the difference between cash and debit food choices.

Oct. 3—School cafeterias that accept only electronic payments may be inadvertently promoting junkier food and adding empty calories to student diets, which contribute to obesity, say Cornell behavioral economists in the journal Obesity, Sept. 23.

Increasingly, schools use debit cards or accounts for cafeteria lunch transactions, write David Just and Brian Wansink, professors at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. To expedite long lunch lines and enable cleaner accounting, about 80 percent of the nation’s elementary and secondary schools have implemented debit systems that parents can add money to at any time.

“There may be a reason for concern about the popularity of cashless systems,” say the researchers. “Debit cards have been shown to induce more frivolous purchases or greater overall spending by adults and college students.”