By Rick Nauert, Ph.D.
Emerging research challenges strategies that have historically been used to encourage healthy eating.
Four new perspectives were presented in a symposium, “Challenging Misconceptions About the Psychology of Food Choice,” presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Conference.
To begin, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association observed whether or not photographs of vegetables on a school lunch tray had an impact on the amount of vegetables eaten.
The study found that placing photos of carrots and green beans did increase the amounts of vegetables eaten during lunch, but it still was not at levels consistent with government-recommended dietary guidelines.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are now studying other simple methods that schools could utilize to encourage eating vegetables during lunch. Their research will be published in the coming year.
“[Our] research suggests that little changes to the lunchroom setting can help kids eat more vegetables. For example, you can help kids eat more vegetables by providing vegetables before you offer any other food,” said researcher Traci Mann, Ph.D. Children who were given vegetables to eat first before any other food ate more than children who were provided all food options at once.
Researchers at the University of California at San Diego and the University of Texas at Austin are also investigating ways to motivate teenagers to make healthier food and drink choices. “Teenagers are notoriously uninterested in healthy eating,” said lead researcher Christopher Bryan, Ph.D.
In response to that disinterest, Bryan and his colleagues have taken a novel approach at motivating teens.
“Instead of trying to convince teens to care about something they don’t care about, we link healthy eating to things they already care about,” Bryan said.
The new perspective will hopefully help teens understand deceptive food marketing practices that manipulate the intake of junk food.
Researchers believe that by explaining how companies engineer junk food to be as addictive as possible, and showing how dishonest labeling is used to make products appear healthier than they are, will help teens make better choices.
“We find that by changing the way teens think about healthy eating, we’re able to increase the extent to which teens want to see themselves as healthy eaters… and by doing that, we’re able to increase the rate at which teens make healthy choices,” said Bryan.
The researchers are continuing to study whether their approach can effectively change teens’ behavior long-term. Continue Reading