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Why You Should Talk to Your Kids About Unhealthy Food Ads

Why You Should Talk to Your Kids About Unhealthy Food Ads

Find out a surefire way you can help your children form healthier habits.

In 1955, when James Dean starred in Rebel Without a Cause, he made teen angst and defiance cool for a whole generation of kids. Well, now researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business are suggesting that an all-that attitude can be used to make your youngsters, especially adolescent boys, a lot healthier. And you never have to say, “Eat your broccoli or no dessert.”

The study, published in Nature Human Behavior, found eighth graders can be turned off to fast food, junky snacks, and sugary beverages if they’re made aware of how companies manipulate them and damage their health through exploitive marketing and deceptive messaging.

The researchers had boys and girls read a fact-based, expose-style article on big food companies that explained when candy and soda, for example, are equated with happiness, kids will get roped into believing it. The researchers then sent food ads on an iPad to the kids, who were asked to write on them, graffiti style, to change their message from false to true.

The result? Girls seemed to respond equally to standard healthy info and the more aggressive messaging about food companies. But boys responded more enthusiastically to the expose: They reduced daily purchases of unhealthy drinks and snacks in their school cafeteria by 31 percent, and the improvements persisted for the rest of the school year.

Your takeaway, Mom and Dad: Talk to your kids about how they’re targeted. And ask them to talk to their teachers about researching food ads. Now, that’s giving your rebel a cause!

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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