Can television teach kids how to eat healthy?
Maybe, suggests new research. Watching cooking shows that featured healthy recipes seemed to encourage healthy eating in children, the study showed.
“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, from Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
The researchers recruited 125 children, aged 10 to 12, who watched 10 minutes of a Dutch public television cooking program designed for children. All were offered a snack as a reward for taking part in the study.
Some of the children watched an episode featuring healthy food, while others watched an episode featuring unhealthy food.
Those who watched the healthy episode were 2.7 times more likely to choose a healthy snack (an apple or a few pieces of cucumber) than an unhealthy snack (a handful of chips or salted mini-pretzels).
The study was published Jan. 8 in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Previous research has found children are more likely to eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables if they help prepare meals. However, the growing reliance on ready-prepared foods and fewer parents preparing fresh foods have led to a drop in cooking skills among children, the researchers said.
They noted that the study was conducted at the children’s schools, which could represent a promising alternative to teach children healthy eating behaviors.
“Providing nutritional education in school environments instead may have an important positive influence on the knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviors of children,” Folkvord said in a journal news release.
“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,” he said. “Positive peer and teacher modeling can encourage students to try new foods for which they exhibited distaste previously.”
Poor eating habits during childhood and the teen years can have a have negative long-term health effects, the study authors noted.
“The likelihood of consuming fruits and vegetables among youth and adults is strongly related to knowing how to prepare most fruits and vegetables,” Folkvord said. “Increased cooking skills among children can positively influence their consumption of fruit and vegetables in a manner that will persist into adulthood.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on nutrition.
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