How children decide liked, healthy, and unhealthy foods

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Children and eating habit

Children’s knowledge about food and eating can significantly impact their health. A balance diet can help them grow stronger, whereas too much intake of sugar and fat can increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

To understand how children decide liked, health, and unhealthy foods, researchers from the University of Virginia recently conducted a survey.

Thirty-seven children from grades 3 through 7 were gathered in small focus groups. Teachers led a discussion about topics in foods and eating, such as

“What kind of foods do you eat most of the time?”

“What kinds of foods do you like and why?”

“What kinds of foods are healthy or unhealthy and why?”

“How do you describe these foods?”

Researchers analyzed children’s responses and found that children often categorized items as healthy or unhealthy based on the food group.

For example, desserts and snack foods were considered unhealthy because they were “high in sugar”.

Fruits and vegetables were considered healthy because they were “fresh” or “nutritious”. In addition, many believed meats and dairy were unhealthy because they were “fattening” and “greasy”.

It also showed that descriptions of foods they liked were not related to healthy values of the foods (e.g., “dessert is something that tastes good”).

Children often focused on specific tastes (e.g., sour, sweet, salty) when talking about their favorite food and unhealthy food.

They also paid lots of attention on color and texture when described foods (e.g., red and fried meat, broccoli, pizza, pasta, etc.).

Finally, family and home experiences with food seemed to shape their positive attitude to certain type of foods. For example, some children liked to eat foods from family gardens, such as corn, cucumbers, and potatoes.

The result suggests that children tend to use simplified strategies to decide health value based on major food groups.

Food education can improve this by adding visual media materials to teach children distinguish food sub-categories, e.g., whole corn, canned corn, and breakfast cereal.

Additionally, children’s food preference is based on tastes, visual appeal, and familiarity. Parents may help them eat well by cooking healthy food frequently and making the food look pretty.


Citation: Frerichs L, Intolubbe-Chmil L, Brittin J, Teitelbaum K, Trowbridge M, Huang TT. (2016). Children’s Discourse of Liked, Healthy, and Unhealthy Foods. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. pii: S2212-2672(16)00101-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.01.014.
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