You Can Manipulate Rebellious Teenagers Into Not Eating Junk
A new study has found that teenagers will eat less junk food if they believe that the companies selling it are evil corporations that should be rebelled against.
In a bid to battle the junk food advertisements that teenagers are constantly exposed to, public health researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business employed the novel tactic of simply changing what kids think about the companies.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, found that giving teenagers interventions that display junk food companies as manipulative marketing corporations encourages them to make healthier food choices for at least three months.
This effect was particularly noticeable among teenage boys, who reduced their purchases of unhealthy snacks in the school cafeteria by 31 percent.
The interventions provided in the study framed junk food companies as incompatible with teenage values such as social justice and freedom from adult control.
"The method works by tapping into teens' natural desire to rebel against authority," the authors said.
Teenage boys and girls both showed an immediate change in their gut-level emotional reaction to junk food advertisements after being told that corporations were simply trying to hook consumers on unhealthy, addictive foods for financial gain.
This reaction changed their approach to junk food far more effectively than another type of education that simply focused on health benefits, as has traditionally been adopted in public health measures.
The researchers also note that the emphasis adopted by previous health education focuses strongly on caloric intake, which may not be the most effective or ethical option for young women, as it triggers social pressures to be thin.
One of the study's authors, David S. Yaeger, stated that the study "paves the way for solutions to some of the thorniest challenges for promoting global public health."
Obesity among Australian children and teenagers is a profound and growing issue -- in 2014, one in four children aged two to 17 years-old were considered obese.
Tackling adolescent weight gain has so far proved to be an extremely difficult task, with one study published last year finding teenagers forced onto diets by their parents struggle to maintain healthy habits later in life.
The researchers say that by breaking the happy, fun associations with junk food created by advertisements, teenagers' natural aversions can be utilised for public health benefits.