Study Suggests Healthy Eaters Watch TV (It’s Not What You Think)

A new study suggests healthy eaters watch cooking shows

Most parents spend the majority of their time trying to get their kids off of screens. Now there is (gasp!) finally a reason to turn on the tube

Hold on, though.. hear us out!

When my son was around five years old, he began telling me about a vacuum that he thought we should buy. On a daily basis, he would highlight the features of this vacuum in such a convincing manner that one day I looked it up online. I couldn’t figure out where he was learning this information and why he was so adamant about our family being new owners of this household appliance.

Then, one Saturday morning, I came downstairs earlier than usual. My answer was right in front of me. While I was snuggled in bed thinking that my child was watching the same episode of Peppa Pig on repeat, he was actually engrossed in early morning infomercials. Once I put my disappointment in myself aside, I was intrigued by his fascination.

Children are impressionable, which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to television use. Like sponges, they absorb the information presented to them. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it may be easier for to make better food choices after watching television shows featuring healthy cooking. Yes, healthy eaters may learn facts from shows that feature healthy cooking habits!

Related: What I’ve Learned About Raising Healthy Eaters 

A new study published this week in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that children who watched a cooking program on television with healthy foods and healthy food habits were 2.7 times more likely to choose healthy foods than children who watched a program with unhealthy foods.

The aim of the study, conducted on 125 school-aged children ranging from 10-12 years old in the Netherlands, was to determine whether or not exposure to certain foods influenced food attitudes and preferences. The children were randomly assigned to one of three groups, with each group watching a 10-minute television show.  The first group watched a cooking show featuring healthy foods, including predominantly fruits and vegetables. The second group’s television program included hamburgers, French fries, and croissants. The control group watched a television show unrelated to food.

After watching the programs, children were offered a food-related “reward.” Children could choose from either an apple, cucumber, crisps, or salted pretzels.  Unaware that the food reward was related to the study, the children selected a snack. The children who watched the healthy program were more than two and half times likely to choose the apple or the cucumber. Children who viewed the unhealthy show choose healthy food only 20% of the time. The control group opted for healthy foods at around the same rate as the subjects who watched the unhealthy cooking show.

Related: Empowering Parents: How to Help Picky Eaters 

The study concluded that priming children with healthy foods is an effective way to induct healthy snack intake. According to the authors, the mere sight or smell of foods prompts cravings for these foods.

“The findings from this study indicate cooking programs can be a promising tool for promoting positive changes in children’s food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors,” said lead author Frans Folkvord, Ph.D., of Tilburg University.

The school setting is a critical avenue for influencing healthy choices, especially for those children who may have the opportunity to make healthy choices at home.  “Providing nutritional education in school environments instead may have an important positive influence on the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors of children,” Dr. Folkvor continued.

With obesity and chronic health conditions on the rise, the study adds to a growing body of evidence that education around healthy food choices is imperative.

So if the tube is going to be on, let it work to your advantage (and your child’s health!). Bon Apetit!

Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock


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