In a bid to fight obesity, public-health researchers have been trying to find a way to convince teenagers to ship junk food and eat healthily, two little avail. One of the biggest obstacles is the enormous volume of food marketing kids are exposed to every day. That marketing is designed to foster strong positive associations with junk food in kids' minds and to drive overeating — and research has shown that it works.
Now, a new study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds that simple and brief intervention can provide lasting protection for adolescents against these harmful effects of food marketing.
In the study, "A Values-Alignment Intervention Protects Adolescents from the Effects of Food Marketing, published today in Nature Human Behavior Chicago Booth's Christopher J. Bryan, University of Texas at Austin's David S. Yeager, and Booth Ph.D. candidate Cintia P. Hinojosa find that reframing how students view food-marketing campaigns can ask adolescents, particularly boys, to make healthier daily dietary choices for an extended period of time. The method works in part by tapping into 'natural desire to rebel against authority.
Among the two biggest findings in the experiment: The intervention produced and enduring change in both boys' and girls' immediate, gut-level, emotional reactions to junk food marketing messages. And teenage boys, notoriously difficult group to know when it comes to giving up junk food, started making healthier food and drink choices in their school cafeteria.
"One of the most exciting things is that we got kids to have a more negative immediate gut reaction to junk food and junk food marketing, and a more positive immediate reaction to healthy foods, "said Bryan.
A preliminary study took place among eighth graders at a Texas middle school in 201
A separate, control group of students received traditional material from existing health education programs about the benefits of healthy eating. The researchers found that the group that read the exhibitions chose fewer junk food snacks and selected water on sugary sodas the next day.
In the new study, released today, teens first read the marketing exposé material, and then did an activity called "Make It True," meant to reinforce the negative portrayal of food marketing. The students received images of food advertisements on iPads with instructions to write or draw on the ads – graffiti style – to transform the ads from false to true.
The latest study, which used a new sample of eighth graders, found that Intervention endured for the remainder of the school year — a full three months. The effects were particularly impressive among boys, who reduced their daily purchases of unhealthy drinks and snacks in the school cafeteria at 31 percent in that time period, compared with the control group.
This relatively simple intervention could be an early sign of public-health game changer.
Appealing to teenagers' natural impulse to "stick it to the man" and their developmentally heightened sense of fairness may finally provide a way for the public-health community to compete against dramatically-not-funded junk food marketers. This brief, inexpensive, and easily scalable intervention appears to provide lasting protection against the enticing power of junk food marketing, and to change eating habits for the better.
term health consequences of bad diet would be an effective way to motivate them to change their behavior, "said Bryan. "That's clearly a problematic assumption. We thought it could be the main reason why no one has been able to change their eating habits in a loading way." The study was less conclusive about the intervention's effect on teen girls 'cafeteria purchases. Although, similar boys, girls experienced a more negative immediate response to junk food after the exposé intervention, their daily cafeteria purchases were similar whether they read the exhibition or the traditional health education material.
What is unclear is whether the similar purchases meant that neither intervention improved girls' choices or that were effective in girls, but for different reasons. The researchers suspect that, while traditional health education is completely effective at changing boys 'behavior, it might influence girls' choices because it mentions calories, which might trigger social pressure. If that is the case, it suggests the exhibit might be a preferable option for girls too because it achieves similar results with less risk of body shaming.
"This study shows it's possible to change behavior during adolescence using a light-touch intervention , "said Yeager. "Adolescence is a developmental internship when even the longest health promotion approaches have virtually no effect. Because so many social problems, from education to risky behavior, have their roots in the years, this study paves the way for solutions to some of the Thorniest challenges for promoting global public health. "" Food marketing is deliberately designed to create positive emotional associations with junk food, to connect with feelings of happiness and fun, "said Bryan. "What we've done is that around the food marketers by exposing this manipulation to teenagers, triggering their natural strong aversion to being controlled by adults. If we could make more kids aware of that, it might make a real difference."
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Christopher J. Bryan et al., A values alignment intervention protects adolescents from the effects of food marketing, Nature Human Behavior (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41562-019-0586-6
New study finds simple way to inoculate teens against junk food marketing (2019, April 15)
retrieved April 16, 2019
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