Teens Make Healthier Choices When They See It as Defiant

Teen rebellion could be an asset, not a threat
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2016 3:02 PM CDT
Teens Make Healthier Choices When They See It as Defiant
This Aug. 24, 2016 photo shows a salad in Coronado, Calif.   (Melissa d'Arabian via AP)

As anyone who can remember being a teenager (or parenting a teenager) well knows, telling a teen to do something because it's the healthy choice just doesn't cut it. Implying that it's an act of defiance against some corrupt authority figure, on the other hand, appears to work wonders, as researchers focusing on healthy eating report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They write that by harnessing teens' tendency to rebel, they were able to align "healthy behavior with values about which adolescents already care: feeling like a socially conscious, autonomous person worthy of approval from one’s peers." A co-author explains to the Guardian that the study worked by making "healthy eating seem like the rebellious thing that you do, you make your own choices, you fight back against injustice."

In a randomized trial, researchers assigned 489 eighth-graders at a Texas middle school to one of two groups: one that read an article about how the body processes food that recommended a diet lower in sugars and fats, and the other that read about the cynical practices of food companies (such as making unhealthy foods more addictive). The next day, the kids in the latter group were more likely to choose healthy snacks like fruit and carrots instead of Oreos and Doritos at a long-planned celebration in a different class. The co-author says that eating healthily had become "a high status thing to do" for those teens. The New York Times likens the findings to a highly effective anti-smoking campaign from 2000 that "framed smoking as an act of corporate submission" to a corrupt tobacco industry. (In places where pot is legal, teens don't smoke more and sometimes even smoke less.)

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