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Renata Olah: Why Children Develop Unhealthy Food Preferences

Have you ever wondered why it's so difficult to get kids to eat their vegetables? Not wanting to eat broccoli is rooted in a much more complicated issue than just not liking green food. How we come to like certain foods is associated with many factors and is referred to as food preferences.

Written by: Renata Olah

A former Professional Basketball Player and a three-time National Champion and two-time European Cup Champion, Renata Olah, has helped athletes for over nine years build their training, rehab, and strength programs, allowing them to become more resilient to injuries and ultimately achieve their dreams. By providing a combination of physiotherapy sessions, functional exercises and biomechanics training, Renata help patients and athletes achieve their goals.

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Part 1: Why Children Develop Unhealthy Food Preferences

Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to get kids to eat their vegetables? Not wanting to eat broccoli is rooted in a much more complicated issue than just not liking green food. How we come to like certain foods is associated with many factors and is referred to as food preferences.

Food Preference Development
In the first 2 years of life—when a child is in a state of constant learning and growth—food preferences are also forming. Most are learned, but some are innate. A child’s food preferences directly affect eating behavior, which in turn is linked to overall health, wellness, and the formation of obesity.

For years now, the food and beverage industry has used this knowledge to their advantage and encourages the development of unhealthy food preferences in children of all ages through various marketing and advertising techniques.

The Food and Beverage Industry’s Role in the Formation of Food Preferences
How often have you seen a food advertisement for broccoli? Healthy foods are advertised less than 3% of the time in comparison to their counterparts. This has a direct impact on children’s food preferences with food and beverage companies spend $2 billion dollars a year on food marketing campaigns directed at children.
The fast food industry spends nearly 5 million dollars a day by advertising products high in sugar, fat and salt, while also suggesting portion sizes grossly disproportionate to a child’s energy needs. Fast food companies are also using cross promotion using toys from children’s favourite movies as a bonus for purchasing their unhealthy food. Remarkably, studies demonstrate that even very young children exposed to persuasive ads can develop food cravings for unhealthy foods that they have never even tasted!
This has a direct consequence on the formation of potentially lifelong, unhealthy food preferences associated with the development of obesity and all that comes with it. Although food preferences can be unlearned, this is often a monumental task as we age.

The Problem starts with Baby and Toddler Snacks
Reducing sodium and sugar intake early on can help set taste preferences in young children and help them make healthy food choices later in life.  UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found only 4 out of 80 baby and toddler snacks met nutritious standards.
Note to parents: Always read the nutrition label.

As Children Grow, So Does the Problem
Older children are bombarded with ad campaigns through every existing marketing vehicle. Walk through any supermarket and notice where the children’s cereal is located. It invariably sits enticingly at a child’s eye level. Point-of-sale placement of candies and sweets are another well-thought-out marketing tactic.

Food Marketing and Media Use
Children are also exposed to countless ads on TV, streaming services, video games, social media, and most Internet websites. This is one of many important reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that screen time be avoided from birth to 18 months.
What about celebrity endorsements? Study shows that in 2016 Pediatrics examined the food industry’s use of music celebrities to endorse sugary soft drinks and nutrient-poor foods through multi-million-dollar campaigns. Results also showed these celebrities are highly popular among teenage audiences, considering adolescents ages 12 to 18 report spending almost 2 hours listening to music each day!

Marketing Food in Schools
Advertising, serving, and promoting unhealthy foods continue to occur in schools across North America. Many groups are actively pursuing innovative methods of enhancing food literacy for children and their families, which include improving food choices, as well as learning how to grow, cook and properly identify healthy foods.

What Parents Can Do

Parents need to be well informed of the negative health consequences of current food marketing practices. This information can help them plan accordingly in reference to media exposure and the introduction of unhealthy foods in their child’s diet.
Let’s lead by example and make healthy choices for ourselves and our families!

Let’s teach them how to make healthy choices by showing them how us as parents make healthy choices!

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