Learning about emotions can help kids eat less junk food

Photo (c) monkeybusinessimages - Getty Images

Researchers say just knowing about nutrition often isn’t enough

Learning about healthy eating, especially in school, has been proven to help kids make healthier food choices, but a new study has shown how going beyond the nutrition facts can also help kids. 

A new study incorporated the emotional aspect into teaching kids about healthy eating and found that engaging with children about healthy eating beyond just by-the-book lessons reduced their junk food eating habits. 

“Numerous studies have addressed health issues in the school setting, but most have focused on physical activity and nutrition, with little attention to emotional issues such as self-esteem, depression, and eating behaviours,” said researcher Dr. Carolinne Santin Dal Ri. 

How emotions factor in

The researchers chose ten elementary schools in Brazil to participate in the study -- five that received no interventions regarding their healthy eating curriculum and five that received a reboot of their healthy eating lessons, including extensive teacher training and a new seven-point curriculum. 

At the start of the study, the researchers assessed teachers’ food intake and physical activity, as well as children’s physical activity, food intake, height, weight, and knowledge of nutrition to see how the differing classroom lessons impacted their daily habits. 

For the schools that received the health training interventions, teachers could set up lessons any way they chose, but they had to follow seven highlights in their teachings: risk factors for childhood cardiovascular disease, choosing healthy foods, labeling foods, nutrition content, emotional health, physical activity, and how to integrate healthy habits into the daily routine.

The children in these schools completed one activity for each new lesson, and the teachers were required to cover one content area per week. At the end of the study, the researchers found that both students and teachers benefitted from the more comprehensive health curriculum, as both groups chose healthier habits. 

Students and teachers from the schools with the health training intervention not only engaged in more physical activity following the new health lessons, but they also made healthier food choices such as swapping sugary and fatty foods for leaner options. The results show how powerful it can be to expand children’s minds with more than just factual information. 

“Children in both the intervention and control groups increased their level of health knowledge during the study. But only those in the intervention group changed their eating behaviours,” said Dr. Santin Dal Ri. “This suggests that information on its own does not lead to lifestyle improvements. In our study, a programme that combined information with playful activities and emotional support was beneficial for children and teachers.” 

Find a Medical Alert System partner near you.