The Role of the Media in Influencing Children's Nutritional Perceptions

The purpose of the article is to study how children are influenced by the way media represents food and nutrition, and explore the impact these beliefs are having on them and their peers.

A study was done by the
International Journal of Obesity in 2006 exploring the impact watching television has in correlation to obesity.

What perception does media form of nutrition for children, and how much of an impact does this perception have?

They researched students in New Zealand ages 10-12 of both genders and all socioeconomic areas and ethnic backgrounds. They randomly selected 90 students and conducted interviews of 8 students a session separating the girls from the boys. There they asked their
attitudes toward healthy and unhealthy eating behavior, their media use, how aware they were of food messages in media, and they’re attitude toward health awareness in media.

They looked at the media the students were using and made sure they were all equally accessible. Students were asked to define what they thought the characteristics were to a ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ eater. “Healthy” eaters were described as skinny but also weak as they only eat healthy foods. They claimed that being skinny makes you cold since “you don’t have fat to keep you warm” and being weak was not “cool” and socially unacceptable. The students claimed that physical energy came from unhealthy foods.

Eating healthy was seen as “uncool” and the students did not want to be friends with ‘healthy eaters.’ One of the students gave a scenario saying, “you wouldn’t want to invite a healthy eater to your birthday party because they wouldn’t have fun because if you were like having a big cake and lollies, they wouldn’t be able to have it and they wouldn’t enjoy themselves. However, one must be thin to live a happy life. Surprisingly, students were most impacted by magazines. Female students were more impacted and claimed that unhealthy eating was normal during emotional distress. They were well aware of the food advertising in media and claimed it was ‘fake’ and ‘annoying.’ They were just as aware of the misguidings of health-promotion messages (such as the ‘healthy choice’).

Something new to consider would be how healthy foods should be promoted in an effective way, and what foods should be considered healthy (for example what foods should be labeled as 'healthy.')

I was absolutely shocked to find that magazines played the biggest role on their perceptions. With television and internet playing such a role, it was odd to see written media to be most influential.

Dorey, McCool (2009). The Role of the Media in Influencing Children's Nutritional Perceptions. Qualitative Health Research. Volume 19; (No 5), 645-654