Children who watch cooking shows are more likely to make healthy eating decisions if healthier foods are featured, a new study suggests.
According to the findings, children were more than twice as likely to make a healthy food choice after watching programmes which featured healthy foods, compared to programmes that featured unhealthy foods.
The Dutch studied involved 125 children aged between 10 and 12 who were from five different schools. The children watched part of a cooking programme aimed at young people and all were then offered a snack for participating.
The researchers found that those who watched the programme featuring healthy foods were 2.7 times more likely to choose a healthy snack, such as an apple, rather than an unhealthy snack, such as chips.
"The findings from this study indicate cooking programmes can be a promising tool for promoting positive changes in children's food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors," commented the study's lead author, Dr Frans Folkvord, of Tilburg University.
The researchers pointed out that while previous research has found that children are more likely to eat healthy foods if they are involved in meal preparations, this is less likely to happen nowadays because of an increasing reliance on ready-prepared foods and less cooking of fresh foods by their parents. As a result, these skills are not being passed on.
"Providing nutritional education in school environments instead may have an important positive influence on the knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviors of children," Dr Folkvord suggested.
The researchers believe that the visual prominence of healthier foods and portion sizes on cooking programmes may lead children to crave those foods and then act on those cravings.
They acknowledged that children who do not like trying new foods were less likely to want the healthier option after watching a programme that featured healthy foods, compared to children who enjoy trying new foods.
However, they pointed out that as children grow older, they start to feel more responsible for their eating habits and can fall back on information they learned when they were younger. The researchers believe this may indicate that watching programmess with healthier options can still have a positive impact on children's behavior, even if it is delayed by age.
Dr Folkvord noted that poor dietary habits during childhood and adolescence can have long-term consequences for health and wellbeing.
"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," he added.
Details of these findings are published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
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