According to a 2016 US study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, rebellion can be used as a method to convince teenagers to adopt healthier eating habits. That’s right, if your teenager won’t eat their greens, try telling them NOT to eat them.
While it’s not quite as simple as that, the findings are still rather humorous.
The findings suggest that advising teenagers about the manipulative marketing tactics found throughout the food industry reduces their consumption of sugary food and drinks. Contrasting this however, the study also found that promoting healthy diet habits based on future health prospects falls on deaf ears.
One of the authors of the study, David Yeager from the University of Texas Adolesescent Development Research Group, explains “If the normal way of seeing healthy eating is that it is lame, then you don’t want to be the kind of person who is a healthy eater.” He goes on to say, “But if we make healthy eating seem like the rebellious thing that you do, you make your own choices, you fight back against injustice, then it could be seen as high status.”
The study involved 536 schoolchildren, from the ages of 13 – 15, and their reactions to various stimuli regarding the promotion of a healthy diet. The students received, either pro-healthy eating stimuli or stimuli that detailed how junk food is manufactured to be addictive, is marketed deceivingly and is targeted towards young people.
The next day, the students were all given a choice of various foods for lunch. Of the group who received stimuli on junk food, only 43% chose unhealthy snack such as chips or biscuits, compared to 54% of the group who received stimuli on healthy food.
In addition, students in the junk-food stimuli group, were also more inclined to agree with statements about social justice and status such as: “When I eat healthy, I am helping to make the world a better place”. The group was also more inclined to be outraged by junk food advertisements when monitored in the following days.
A spokesperson from the British Dietetic Association admitted the study had merit, but warned that the study was modest, and should be repeated for a longer duration with far more participants.
Whatever the case, the findings certainly are interesting and we’ll be watching this space.