Researchers at Cornell University, located in Ithaca, New York, have done a study that shows children can be “primed” into making healthier food choices.
Childhood obesity seems to be the hot topic of concern these days. Even the major fast food chains have succumbed to pressure and are offering healthier alternatives on their child menus. However, research has shown that these healthier alternatives are often being overlooked. Dr. Brian Wansink, Dr. Mitsuru Shimizu from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and Guido Camps, a Master Student from University of Utrecht (The Netherlands) visiting the lab, did a study to see if children could be “primed” into making a better food choice. Priming is a psychological term where actions can be influenced by activating a memory or “knowledge structure” as they put it in the study. The study was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.
In the study, 22 children between the ages of 6 and 12 attended a special camp designed for kids from lower socioeconomic families. The study was conducted on four consecutive Wednesdays during lunch. To set the control for the study, the children were not primed on weeks one and four. They were just simply asked if they wanted apple fries (thin slices of apple) or french fries from a major fast food restaurant. On the second week, each child was shown 12 pictures of characters, of whom 6 were admirable and 6 less admirable. The pictures were shown in random order and each child was asked if that person would order apple fries or french fries. By doing this the researchers primed the children into associating healthy eating with a hero.
On the control weeks where the children were not primed, 9.1% of the children picked apple fries for lunch. on the week that the children were primed with a hero, 45.5% selected apple fries! Interestingly, on week 3 the children were shown pictures of healthy and unhealthy food and were asked to identify which they thought was healthy and which was not. Only 18% selected apple fries that week. This just shows the powerful influence a positive role model can have on the mind of a child.
So parents, next time you take your kids out to the fast food joint, ask them “What would Batman [or their favorite hero] eat?” You might be surprised to see they make a healthier choice.