A new study finds that children who watched a kid-oriented cooking show featuring healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to make healthy food choices than kids who watched a different episode of the same show featuring unhealthy food.
The findings are published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
For the study, researchers asked 125 children (ages 10 to 12) at five schools in the Netherlands to watch 10 minutes of a Dutch public television cooking show designed for kids, and then offered them a snack as a reward for participating.
Kids who watched the healthy program were far more likely to choose one of the healthy snack options (an apple or a few pieces of cucumber) than one of the unhealthy options (a handful of chips or salted mini-pretzels).
Poor dietary habits in childhood and adolescence can have multiple negative effects on several health and wellness indicators, including maintaining a healthy weight, strong growth and development patterns and good dental health.
The study suggests the visual cues of seeing healthier options in both food choice and portion size on TV cooking programs leads young viewers to crave those healthier choices and then act on those cravings.
“The findings from this study indicate cooking programs can be a promising tool for promoting positive changes in children’s food-related preferences, attitudes and behaviors,” said lead author Frans Folkvord, PhD, of Tilburg University,Tilburg, Netherlands.
Previous research has shown that young people are more likely to eat nutrient-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, if they were involved in preparing the dish, but modern reliance on ready-prepared foods and a lack of modeling by parents in preparing fresh foods have led to a lack in cooking skills among kids.
“The likelihood of consuming fruits and vegetables among youth and adults is strongly related to knowing how to prepare most fruits and vegetables. Increased cooking skills among children can positively influence their consumption of fruit and vegetables in a manner that will persist into adulthood,” Folkvord added.
Importantly, the study was conducted in schools, which could represent a promising alternative for children to learn healthy eating behaviors.
“Schools represent the most effective and efficient way to reach a large section of an important target population, which includes children as well as school staff and the wider community,” Folkvord said. “Positive peer and teacher modeling can encourage students to try new foods for which they exhibited distaste previously.”