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children think their peers eat more unhealthy snacks than they actually do – changing this perception can lead to better diets

Creator : Rachel Povey, Affiliate Professor in Well being Psychology, Staffordshire College

Weight problems is a rising downside amongst younger individuals within the UK. In 2020-21, 40.9% of 12 months six youngsters (age 10-11) have been measured as chubby or overweight. Analysis reveals that childhood weight problems will increase the chance of dwelling with weight problems as an grownup.

Frequent snacking on meals excessive in fats, salt and sugar, similar to crisps and chocolate bars, could also be one issue contributing to excessive weight problems charges. The UK authorities recommends that snack meals like this must be eaten not often and solely in small quantities as a part of a nutritious diet.

However once we surveyed 252 11 and 12-year-old college students at two English secondary colleges to know the perceived social norms for snacking on meals excessive in fats, salt and sugar, we discovered that college students usually overestimated the extent to which different college students ate this sort of snack. We’ve additionally discovered that what their friends do seems to closely affect how younger individuals eat.

We used these outcomes to discover a strategy to scale back snacking amongst youngsters, by informing them of this false impression.

Snacking habits

A 2019 examine discovered that teenagers categorized as chubby or overweight ate extra snacks which have been excessive in salt, fats and sugar every day than those that have been regular weight.

Our analysis began by attempting to know what influences younger individuals’s diets by means of focus group discussions. We discovered that younger individuals aged 11 and 12 seen their fellow college students as sturdy influences on what they need to be consuming, and that they might be teased for consuming extra healthily.

We then targeted on addressing misperceptions of social norms as a strategy to change the younger individuals’s snacking behaviour. Perceived social norms are the unwritten guidelines or expectations that information what we personally assume or do based mostly on what we expect most different individuals assume or do.

Difficult misconceptions

An method based mostly on social norms works by correcting these misperceptions between perceived and precise behaviour. Our analysis group has used this method to handle different well being behaviour, similar to attitudes in the direction of vaccine uptake and understanding college college students’ use of alcohol and different medication. No research had but used this method to know snacking behaviour in college students beginning secondary faculty.

Person selecting snack from vending machine
Based on UK authorities recommendation, snacks excessive in salt, fats and sugar must be consumed not often.
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

We discovered that, on common, college students aged 11 and 12 overestimated what number of snacks excessive in salt, fats or sugar their friends ate by 3.2 snack parts a day. We then developed a marketing campaign, based mostly at a faculty, to problem these assumptions.

College students designed posters for show of their faculty. These featured info from the survey information we collected, displaying that the scholars consumed fewer snacks than the frequent notion. We developed the marketing campaign along with college students and academics. Based mostly on their options, we ran a contest the place college students voted for one of the best posters to be displayed across the faculty.

We discovered that the 163 college students who took half within the marketing campaign have been much less more likely to overestimate their friends’ attitudes to snacking, in contrast with college students at one other faculty who fashioned a management group. After three months, college students on the faculty the place we ran the marketing campaign ate fewer snacks excessive in fats, salt and sugar, and had much less optimistic attitudes in the direction of snacking on these meals, in contrast with the management group.

Understanding beliefs round social norms, in addition to involving younger individuals in tackling misperceptions, can provide a technique to assist deal with the rising downside of weight problems in youngsters and youngsters.


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