"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015

RETURN TO THE WORLD SCIENCE HOME PAGE


Don’t tell kids how healthy any food is, study suggests

July 23, 2014
Courtesy of University of Chicago Press Journals
and World Science staff

At some point, most kids will hear that drink­ing milk helps make their bones strong or that fish is food for the brain. But do these mes­sages fos­ter the idea that if some­thing is good for us, it must surely taste bad? 

Ac­cord­ing to a new study in the Jour­nal of Con­sum­er Re­search, when chil­dren hear about the ben­e­fits of healthy food, they’re less likely to eat it.

“Par­ents and care­givers who are strug­gling to get chil­dren to eat health­i­er may be bet­ter off simply serv­ing the food with­out say­ing an­y­thing about it, or (if cred­i­ble) em­pha­siz­ing how yummy the food ac­tu­ally is,” the au­thors wrote.

The re­search tested the pre­dic­tion that “when food is pre­sented to chil­dren as mak­ing them strong or as a tool to achieve a goal such as learn­ing how to read or count, they would con­clude the food is not as tasty and there­fore con­sume less of it,” wrote the au­thors, Mi­chal Mai­maran of North­west­ern Uni­vers­ity in Il­li­nois and Aye­let Fish­bach of the Uni­vers­ity of Chi­ca­go.

They con­ducted five ex­pe­ri­ments with chil­dren be­tween the ages of three and five. In all of the stud­ies, the chil­dren were read a pic­ture book sto­ry about a girl who ate a snack of crack­ers or car­rots. De­pend­ing on the ex­pe­ri­ment, the sto­ry ei­ther did or did not sta­te the ben­e­fits of the snack (mak­ing the girl strong or help­ing her learn how to count). The chil­dren were then giv­en the op­por­tun­ity to eat the food fea­tured in the sto­ry and the au­thors meas­ured how much they ate. The chil­dren ate more when they did not re­ceive any mes­sage about the foods mak­ing them strong or help­ing them learn how to count.

Brands mar­ket­ing food items to par­ents and chil­dren can use these re­sults to de-em­pha­size the ben­e­fits of healthy food and fo­cus more on the pos­i­tive ex­perience of eat­ing the food. the re­search­ers wrote. These re­sults al­so help to em­pow­er pol­i­cy­makers and med­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions look­ing to com­bat child­hood obes­ity and ju­ve­nile di­a­be­tes, they added.


* * *

Send us a comment on this story, or send it to a friend

Sign up for
e-newsletter
   
 
subscribe
 
cancel

On Home Page         

LATEST

  • St­ar found to have lit­tle plan­ets over twice as old as our own

  • “Kind­ness curricu­lum” may bo­ost suc­cess in pre­schoolers

EXCLUSIVES

  • Smart­er mice with a “hum­anized” gene?

  • Was black­mail essen­tial for marr­iage to evolve?

  • Plu­to has even cold­er “twin” of sim­ilar size, studies find

  • Could simple an­ger have taught people to coop­erate?

MORE NEWS

  • F­rog said to de­scribe its home through song

  • Even r­ats will lend a help­ing paw: study

  • D­rug may undo aging-assoc­iated brain changes in ani­mals

At some point, most kids will hear that drinking milk helps make their bones strong or that fish is food for the brain. But do these messages foster the idea that if something is good for us, it must surely taste bad? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, when children hear about the benefits of healthy food, they’re less likely to eat it. “Parents and caregivers who are struggling to get children to eat healthier may be better off simply serving the food without saying anything about it, or (if credible) emphasizing how yummy the food actually is,” the authors wrote. The research tested the prediction that “when food is presented to children as making them strong or as a tool to achieve a goal such as learning how to read or count, they would conclude the food is not as tasty and therefore consume less of it,” write authors Michal Maimaran of Northwestern University in Illinois and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago. They conducted five experiments with children between the ages of three and five. In all of the studies, the children were read a picture book story about a girl who ate a snack of crackers or carrots. Depending on the experiment, the story either did or did not state the benefits of the snack (making the girl strong or helping her learn how to count). The children were then given the opportunity to eat the food featured in the story and the authors measured how much they ate. The children ate more when they did not receive any message about the foods making them strong or helping them learn how to count. Brands marketing food items to parents and children can use these results to de-emphasize the benefits of healthy food and focus more on the positive experience of eating the food. These results also help to empower policy makers and medical institutions looking to combat childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes, the authors wrote.