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Study Finds Preschool Children Know What Foods are Healthy

Update Date: Nov 13, 2013 03:21 PM EST

A lack of physical activity and poor nutrition are often the main two contributors to the childhood obesity epidemic. In order to combat obesity, programs and initiatives have been focused on educating people about healthier food choices as well as encouraging them to exercise. However, according to a new study, even though people know what foods are healthy, it does not mean that they will choose to eat them. This new study found that preschoolers that were exposed to more television commercials chose to eat junk foods even though they could identify healthy foods from unhealthy ones.

For this study, the researchers headed by Kristen Harrison, a professor of communication studies and faculty associate from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research examined the influence of television on preschoolers' perception of healthy eating. Since communication with three- to four-year-old toddlers can be difficult, Harrison created a semi-circle chart with six sections, which was called the Placemat Protocol. Each pie-shaped section represented a different food group with six options, which broke down into three healthy and three junky options. The food groups were beverages, meat and beans, milk and diary, grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Harrison asked the preschoolers to pick out foods from any sections of the chart and create a meal that they would eat if they could eat anything. Harrison then asked the preschoolers to create an entirely healthy meal. 250 preschoolers from 18 preschools in Washtenaw, Wayne and Jackson counties participated in this study over the course of two-years. The team also recorded body mass indexes (BMI), surveyed children's knowledge of food brans and interviewed parents regarding what kind of commercials the children might watch and kinds of foods they eat.

The researchers found that children were able to create healthy meals when asked. However, the team discovered that preschoolers who watched more television were also more likely to pick junk foods that contribute to weight gain and eventually, obesity. These children assembled meals that were mostly made up of junk foods. The researchers believe that their findings suggest that television commercials have a significant impact on what children want to eat. Even if children know that the foods might not be good for them, they continue to want the foods and risk obesity.

The study was provided by the University of Michigan.

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