Unhealthy' image influences adolescents' food choices

November 5, 2015, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
Unhealthy’ image influences adolescents’ food choices

Adolescents more readily choose an unhealthy snack if they've been shown a picture of, for example, crisps or chocolate. This is the main finding of research conducted among Amsterdam schoolchildren by researchers from the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University. Their results once again reafirm the negative effects of adverts on the unhealthy behavioural choices of children. The results will soon be published in the journal Appetite.

The rate of obesity among Dutch children is expected to increase in the coming years. Although one in seven children under the age of 13 is currently considered to be obese, this is exactly the age group specifically targeted by adverts for such as and candy. The researchers therefore studied the possible underlying mechanism that forms the basis for the effects of adverts and the exposure to foods in the food choices of teenagers.

As part of the study, a group of Amsterdam teenagers between the age of 12 and 16 were asked to perform a computerised task for which they could earn a reward. During the task, the test subjects could choose between two buttons, one of which, for example, led to a picture of crisps and the other to a picture of a cucumber. While the teenagers were busy pressing the buttons, a cartoon image of monsters would appear every so often on the screen which, by means of Pavlovian conditioning, were associated with (crisps and chocolate) and healthy alternatives (cucumbers and tomatoes).

Especially susceptible to unhealthy stimuli

The results showed that unhealthy stimuli, in this case pictures, have a powerful influence on behavioural decision-making. When shown a monster that was indirectly associated with crisps, the teenagers were indeed more prone to choose crisps. The same effect was achieved when a picture of crisps was shown directly. The same happened with healthy stimuli, but the effect was generally less powerful.

'Our research once again reafirms the negative effect that unhealthy food advertisements have on the decision-making behaviour of children. The fight against obesity requires an environment that specifically focuses on healthy alternatives', says Sanne de Wit, one of the researchers.

More research needs to be done into the mechanism behind decision-making behaviour. The researchers believe that ' responses are triggered automatically by such as images.

Explore further: Celebrity endorsement encourages children to eat junk food

More information: P. Watson et al. An associative account of how the obesogenic environment biases adolescents' food choices, Appetite (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.008

Related Stories

Celebrity endorsement encourages children to eat junk food

March 8, 2013
A study by the University of Liverpool has found that celebrity endorsement of a food product encourages children to eat more of the endorsed product. It also found that children were prompted to eat more of the endorsed ...

TV food advertising increases children's preference for unhealthy foods

June 30, 2011
Researchers at the University of Liverpool have found that children who watch adverts for unhealthy food on television are more likely to want to eat high-fat and high-sugar foods.

Even a little is too much: One junk food snack triggers signals of metabolic disease

November 2, 2015
We hate to ruin Thanksgiving, but a new report appearing in the Nov. 2015 issue of The FASEB Journal suggests that for some people, overindulgence at the dinner table or at snack time is enough to trigger signs of metabolic ...

Memories influence choice of food

May 21, 2015
The stronger our memory is of a certain food, the more likely we are to choose it - even if it is the more unattractive option. Psychologists at the University of Basel conducted a study on how memory influences our choices ...

New regulations fail to make TV food adverts healthier for children

February 15, 2012
Despite new regulations restricting UK TV advertisements for food, children are still exposed to the same level of advertising for junk foods which are high in fat, salt and sugar, researchers have found.

Help for European children to resist unhealthy temptations

November 30, 2012
Children and young people in Europe are exposed to all kinds of fast food, crisps and fizzy drinks – so how can they learn to resist the temptation to indulge?

Recommended for you

Living the high life: How altitude influences bone growth

June 19, 2018
High altitude is a particularly challenging environment—the terrain is physically challenging and the land has a relatively poor crop yield, so food can be sparse. Most importantly, oxygen levels are lower meaning that ...

Introduction of alcohol found to adversely impact fertility rates in hunter-gatherer community

June 19, 2018
Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, a research director with the French National Centre for Scientific Research has found that the introduction of alcohol to a Baka pygmy hunter-gatherer society caused fertility rates to fall. In his ...

Risks of cancer and mortality by average lifetime alcohol intake

June 19, 2018
The risk of mortality, and of developing a number of cancers, is lowest in light drinkers consuming an average of less than one drink per day across their lifetime, and the risk of some cancers increases with each additional ...

Bad habits that lead to cancer, chronic disease corrected by simple lifestyle intervention

June 19, 2018
Does this sound like someone you know? He or she spends too much time in front of screens, gets little exercise and eats a diet high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables.

Graphic warning labels linked to reduced sugary drink purchases

June 18, 2018
Warning labels that include photos linking sugary drink consumption with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay, may reduce purchases of the drinks, according to a new study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School ...

Greater levels of vitamin D associated with decreasing risk of breast cancer

June 15, 2018
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggest higher levels of vitamin D are associated with decreasing risk of breast cancer. Their epidemiological study is published in the June 15 online ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.