To encourage healthy eating, make it about rebellion

To encourage healthy eating, make it about rebellion


(guitar strumming) – The obesity crisis in the United States is only getting worse: close
to one in three American teens are overweight or obese, and
that number has only grown, becoming the No. 1 health concern for parents in the United States. With typical interventions failing, many parents are left wondering, how can they get their
kids to eat healthier? And food companies aren’t helping, as they continually create
positive emotional associations with their junk foods. But Chicago Booth’s Christopher Bryan and his coauthors may have
some answers to that question. It seemed like all of
these past interventions had been assuming that
teenagers want to eat healthily. And that seemed like pretty
clearly a problematic assumption, and we thought it might be the main reason why people had not succeeded in the past at getting teenagers to
change their eating habits. And another big challenge
with any intervention with teenagers is that
they tend to be rebellious. – [Narrator]: So as you would assume, teens don’t typically want to do what their parents or
any adult tell them to. – People generally realize
that teenagers tend to be rebellious. What they appreciate less is that teenagers care a
lot about social justice. So it’s the first time in their lives that they sort of feel
like agents in the world, people who can make a difference. They, unlike many adults, don’t feel jaded about their prospects for doing that. – [Narrator]: And the researchers realized they could take a teen’s rebelliousness and sense of social justice and
use that to their advantage. So they ran a randomized control study of eighth graders in rural Texas, and designed the experiment in such a way that the teens didn’t know
that they were being tested. Each eighth grader received one of three different articles to read. – One of them was our
main treatment article, in which we taught them all about the ways in which the food industry
tries to deceive them and others into eating unhealthy food, and the harm this does, and the ways in which the companies
become rich by doing it. – We get it, you extend Juicy Drop Gum’s delicious flavor with Sour Gel! – What, no applause? – And so we just tell
them, the only language these companies understand is money. So if you don’t buy and eat their food, you are sending a message. You are taking a stand.
It’s both a symbolic and a material stand
against this injustice. In the second article—
it’s a control article— we did our best to mimic the way nutrition education
happens in schools nowadays. – Research shows that
most teens aren’t getting enough servings of healthy items like fresh fruits and vegetables. – And so this was meant
to represent, sort of, the current gold standard
in nutrition education in schools, in middle schools. And then the third
article had nothing to do with food or nutrition at all. It was meant to be
what we call essentially a no-treatment control. – [Narrator]: The day after the
students read the articles, the researchers were able to test the effects the articles had on them. – The way we did that was by working with the school principal
to slightly change the way he does something he does every year, which is give the students a snack pack as a thank you for their hard
work during state testing. So in order to make sure that
the students didn’t think this had anything to do with our study, we arranged for him to
announce it to the students as he normally does, long
before they knew we were coming. Then the day after we came,
he went on the loudspeaker and said, “OK, eighth grade
class, today is the day. “You’re getting your
snack pack as a thank you “for your hard work during state testing. “Homeroom teachers are passing
out these order forms. “Just choose what you want,
and we’ll have it waiting “for you at the end of the day.” – [Narrator]: And thanks to that, the researchers were able to see if the teens’ snack choices varied based on which of the three
articles they had read. – So it turns out that
the traditional approach to teaching about nutrition
had no effect relative to just not talking
about nutrition at all. And we found that the kids who had gotten the exposé article the day
before chose significantly fewer unhealthy options. So
they were more willing to forgo unhealthy options
in their snack pack, more willing to give up
one of the unhealthy treats like Doritos, or Oreos, or chips in favor of something healthy, like baby carrots or a fruit cup. If we were able to achieve
sustained differences of that size, that would
translate into roughly 1 lb of body fat either lost or not gained every six weeks for boys, every eight weeks for girls at that age. – [Narrator]: The researchers
conducted a second study to see how long the effects might last. After three months, the effects of the class were still apparent. The intervention successfully
reduced eighth graders positive feelings toward junk food and caused boys to reduce
their daily purchases of unhealthy snacks and drinks in the school cafeteria by 31 percent. So if we really want
to attack teen obesity, maybe our lessons need
to change from this: – Bad food choices can lead
to big health problems. – To this: – [Vendor] Would you
like to try some samples? You guys want some samples? Do you have a favorite? What’s your favorite? Good choice; we have spent millions upon millions of dollars finding ways to inject these with chemicals that trick your brain into thinking you just wanna keep eating more and more. It’s great! Just wait. You
will be begging your parents to buy you more and more of these. Keep making us bundles of
money. Have a good day! – [Woman] There’s a reason
why big food companies try to hide what’s in their junk food. They carefully manipulate their products to keep us eating them;
but as their profits grow, so do health problems,
especially for little kids and others who don’t know any better. – Oh, no thanks. I don’t touch this stuff. I’ve seen what it does to people.