Can Debit Cards Make Your Kids Fat?

Debit cards can make your kids fat.  Really.  It sounds ridiculous but a new study has shown that people, even kids, and alas I'm in here, too, make more frivolous choices when they use a debit card.

To expedite long lunch lines and enable cleaner accounting, about 80 percent of schools use debit cards or accounts that parents can add money to for cafeteria lunch transactions, write David Just and Brian Wansink, co-directors of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, according to

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

Researchers compared purchases at school cafeterias that use debit-only systems with those that accept debit or cash. They found that students in first through 12th grades at debit/cash cafeterias consumed about 721 calories for lunch compared with 752 calories at debit-only schools.

We're only talking about 30 calories -- not even an Oreo -- but "for non-healthy food items alone – such as candy, dessert, cheeseburgers and fries – students at debit-only schools consumed 441 calories during their lunch, compared with 378 calories for students at debit/cash schools," reports.

An ice cream sandwich here and a bag of potato chips there add up: A child can draw down debit accounts quickly, the research points out. Parents pay for several weeks’ worth of lunches in advance, often with little control over individual transactions. Parents often have difficulty gauging how long the money should last, if spent wisely.

“This may lead children to generally greater spending on lunch,” the researchers report.

Researchers suggest schools might think about allowing parents to regulate daily spending, to help combat the problem. If the use of cash, as opposed to debit cards, can nudge a student into making slightly healthier choices, then perhaps a “cash-for-cookies” policy, for example, would “encourage students to think twice before making their selection,” said study authors.

As for me, I have a cash reserve on my debit card so I spend away -- until the bank notifies me that the reserve is near $0 and every purchase from that point on will cost an additional $35!


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