Today’s Solutions: July 06, 2022

Good nutrition is essential for everyone, but it’s especially important for growing teenagers. However, due to the attractive and addictive nature of junk food, public-health researchers have been struggling for decades to get teens to adopt healthier diets. One of the biggest obstacles is the enormous volume of food marketing kids are exposed to every day. This type of marketing is designed to foster strong positive associations with junk food in kids’ minds and drive overeating, which in its turn leads to the obesity problem that the US is facing. Now, after years of research, scientists might have finally found a solution to this challenge. A new study suggests that a simple and brief intervention can provide lasting protection for adolescents against these harmful effects of food marketing. The research has found 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. Drawing from this, researchers managed to change kids’ eating behavior by reading them articles framing corporations as manipulative marketers trying to hook consumers on addictive junk food for financial gain. The stories also described deceptive product labels and advertising practices that target vulnerable populations, including very young children and the poor. The researchers found that, after being exposed to such claims, children chose fewer junk food snacks and selected water over sugary sodas the next day in the cafeteria. Appealing to teenagers’ natural impulse to “stick it to the man” and their developmentally heightened sense of fairness may finally provide a way for the public-health community to compete against dramatically-better-funded junk food marketers.

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