Dr. Terry T.-K. Huang, professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and colleagues explored children’s understanding and conceptualization of food and health eating. The goal was to inform the development of curricula and messaging strategies. The work was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
[Photo: Dr. Terry T.-K. Huang]
The research team’s objective was to explore and identify patterns and themes regarding how children discuss and describe food and healthy eating. The team conducted focus groups with children in grades three to seven. The children were asked to identify and describe foods they liked and perceived as healthy and unhealthy. The children also completed written worksheets on which they identified and described goods. Discourse analysis was used to code and interpret data by focusing on the language children used in relation to different types of food.
Using the major food groups to determine healthfulness, the children did not strongly connect health values with liked foods and foods perceived as unhealthy. The attributes that shaped likeability were taste, texture, and visual appeal. The children associated liked foods with positive home and family experiences.
The authors concluded that the children’s descriptions of liked and unhealthy foods were largely disconnected from health values and connected to taste and familiarity. Nutrition education should expand strategies beyond promotion of health benefits to include taste and sociocultural familiarity.