While exposure to television advertisements about fast foods is often linked to unhealthy eating habits among children, a new research has revealed that TV programmes featuring healthy foods can influence children to make healthier food choices now and in adulthood.
Kids who watched a child-oriented cooking show featuring healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to make a healthy food choice than those who watched a different episode of the same show featuring unhealthy food, said the study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour.
“The findings from this study indicate cooking programmes can be a promising tool for promoting positive changes in children’s food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviours,” said lead author Frans Folkvord of Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
For the study, the researchers asked 125 children between 10 to 12 years of age at five schools in the Netherlands to watch 10 minutes of a Dutch public television cooking programme designed for children, and then offered them a snack as a reward for participating.
Children who watched the healthy programme were far more likely to choose one of the healthy snack options — an apple or a few pieces of cucumber than one of the unhealthy options, a handful of chips or a handful of salted mini-pretzels.
This study was conducted at the children’s schools, which could represent a promising alternative for children learning healthy eating behaviours.
Prior research has found youth are more likely to eat nutrient-rich foods including fruits and vegetables if they were involved in preparing the dish, but modern reliance on ready-prepared foods and a lack of modelling by parents in preparing fresh foods have led to a drop in cooking skills among kids.
“Providing nutritional education in school environments instead may have an important positive influence on the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviours of children,” Folkvord said.
This study suggests the visual prominence of healthier options in both food choice and portion size on TV cooking programmes leads young viewers to crave those healthier choices then act on those cravings.
But the effect that exposure to healthier options has on children is strongly influenced by personality traits.
For example, children who don’t like new foods are less likely to show a stronger desire for healthier choices after watching a TV programme featuring healthier foods than a child who does enjoy trying new foods.
As they grow older, though, they start to feel more responsible for their eating habits and can fall back on information they learned as children.
Researchers believe this may indicate watching programmes with healthier options can still have a positive impact on children’s behaviour, even if it is delayed by age.