“Don’t let your child watch too much tv when they’re little; it’ll rot their brains and they’ll eventually end up playing video games and eating junk food all day!” Right? That’s been the outcry we’ve heard over the last several years; it’s not good to let your child consume endless hours of mindless entertainment via a blue screen. You need to encourage a love of reading by both reading to them and encouraging them to read on their own.
And what about the junk food? Even Cookie Monster, from PBS’s highly acclaimed Sesame Street, now declares cookies only a “sometimes snack,” and encourages children to consume fruits and vegetables instead. So why are our kids still becoming obese at an alarmingly fast rate? One source may surprise you.
According to Drs. Jane Goldman and Lara Descartes, your much-lauded reading material may be partly to blame. Their 2016 study, published in Appetite (an academic journal focusing specifically on the science of food psychology and culture), showed an overwhelming trend toward portraying junk food and treats in a more positive light than healthier options, like fruits and vegetables.
Using a sample group of 69 children’s books which feature images of food, Goldman and Descartes created “affect” ratings (how happy the characters surrounding the food appear) and “centrality” ratings (how prominent the food item is in the illustration). They determined that fruit and vegetables often aren’t portrayed in a central position and that they only show a positive affect among characters about 18% of the time. Conversely, baked sweet treats are front and center and coupled with a positive affect about 80% of the time. Nearly 75% of the time ice cream is portrayed in children’s books, it’s being given as a treat or to make someone feel better. “It’s not that you shouldn’t have ice cream in books,” Goldman says, “but people should be aware of what the underlying message is.”
So what’s the proper response? Toss your child’s books? Hardly. Just as with the food items themselves, it’s all about choices; review what your child reads before they do, decide whether it offers a healthy message, and make sure that you’re educating your child on what’s best to put in their bodies. And equally as important: keep reading!
Find books that offer a healthy view of food to help you establish good eating habits with your kids. The future will thank you!
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Featured image via Little Sporks Big Dreams