Learning Junk Food Marketing Manipulates, Teens Consume Less

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Healthy eating can be a challenge when millions of dollars are spent everyday trying to convince us to eat junk food. It turns out that telling the truth to teens may help them eat healthier. Informing teens about the financing and exploitation that goes into big food gets them to think critically about the marketing and rebel against it. Plus, starting healthy eating practice in the teenage years sets them up for a lifetime of health.

In the study, “A Values-Alignment Intervention Protects Adolescents from the Effects of Food Marketing,” published today in Nature Human Behaviour, Chicago Booth’s Christopher J. Bryan, University of Texas at Austin’s David S. Yeager, and Booth PhD candidate Cintia P. Hinojosa find that reframing how students view food-marketing campaigns can spur adolescents, particularly boys, to make healthier daily dietary choices for an extended period of time. The method works in part by tapping into teens’ natural desire to rebel against authority.

Among the two biggest findings in the experiment: The intervention produced an enduring change in both boys’ and girls’ immediate, gut-level, emotional reactions to junk food marketing messages. And teenage boys, a notoriously difficult group to convince 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 gut reaction to healthy foods,” said Bryan.

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