Media literacy can improve child nutrition, family relationships

April 21, 2020

PULLMAN, Wash. - During this pandemic when few parents can limit screen time, a new study shows that building critical media skills as a family can have a positive impact on kids' nutrition without restricting their access to TV and computers.

The study, published in the journal Childhood Obesity on April 20, found that an education program that had parents and kids learn media literacy skills together not only helped children eat more fruits and vegetables but also improved communication between parents and their kids.

"We weren't trying just to get children to stop nagging their parents for things like candy and chips," said Erica Weintraub Austin, lead author on the study and director of the Edward R. Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion Research at Washington State University. "We wanted them to be working together to make healthy decisions, and for the children to be well positioned for the future when they have to make those decisions on their own."

Erica Weintraub Austin

The study tested the impact of a community program called FoodMania! with nearly 200 sets of parents and their children ages 9 to 14, who came from three urban and two rural counties in Washington state. Over the course of the six-unit education program, parents and kids learned about good nutrition and worked together to uncover the methods and intent behind food advertising. The program's goal is to help families recognize marketing techniques, so they can make food choices based on real information instead of being manipulated, Austin said.

Pre- and post-tests were compared between parent and child sets who participated in the media literacy program through WSU Extension offices and a control group that did not. Austin and her colleagues found that among the participants: the parents improved their use of nutrition labels, they had a better ratio of healthy to unhealthy foods in their home, and the children reported eating more fruits and vegetables.

The biggest effect, however, was in family communication around food both with parents teaching kids critical thinking about media messages and children initiating conversations with their parents on the topic.

"Managing food and media together seemed to create opportunities for an overall supportive communication environment in the family," Austin said. "Children really like to know that their views are valued. It is really motivating for them when they can find out about something on their own instead of being lectured to."

While media use has been linked to obesity in children, the study purposely concentrated on promoting media literacy, rather than restricting media. Austin said limiting screen time is difficult and does not solve the problem because children are surrounded by food marketing.

"From the time they are infants, children are marketed to," Austin said.

Developmentally, children lack many of the critical skills of adults. First, they have to understand the difference between a program and an advertisement, and then at another level to realize there's a persuasive intent behind an advertisement that is not necessarily for their benefit - a realization, Austin said, that is not often fully developed until the preteen years.

"Executive function skills grow as the child grows, including their ability to control their own behavior and responses," Austin said. "But these are things we can help them practice."
-end-
Authors on this study also included faculty from WSU's College of Education, interdisciplinary prevention science program and Extension. This work was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Washington State University

Related Nutrition Articles from Brightsurf:

Here's how to improve packaged foods nutrition
FOP nutrition labeling results in a significant improvement in the nutritional quality of food products.

'Front of package' nutrition labels improved nutrition quality
A new study analyzing 16 years of data on tens of thousands of products finds that the adoption of nutrition data on ''front of package'' labels is associated with improved nutritional content of those foods and their competitors.

Aquaculture's role in nutrition in the COVID-19 era
A new paper from American University examines the economics of an aquaculture industry of the future that is simultaneously environmentally sustainable and nutritious for the nearly 1 billion people worldwide who depend on it.

Fathers are more likely to be referred for nutrition or exercise counseling
Fatherhood status has been linked to medical providers' weight-related practices or counseling referrals.

Refugee children get better health, nutrition via e-vouchers
Electronic food vouchers provided young Rohingya children in Bangladeshi refugee camps with better health and nutrition than direct food assistance, according to new research led by Cornell University, in conjunction with the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Leaders call for 'Moonshot' on nutrition research
Leading nutrition and food policy experts outline a bold case for strengthening federal nutrition research in a live interactive session as part of NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE, a virtual conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).

Featured research from NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE
Press materials are now available for NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE, a dynamic virtual event showcasing new research findings and timely discussions on food and nutrition.

Diet, nutrition have profound effects on gut microbiome
A new literature review from scientists at George Washington University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests that nutrition and diet have a profound impact on the microbial composition of the gut.

Are women getting adequate nutrition during preconception and pregnancy?
In a Maternal & Child Nutrition analysis of published studies on the dietary habits of women who were trying to conceive or were pregnant, most studies indicated that women do not meet nutritional recommendations for vegetable, cereal grain, or folate intake.

Supermarkets and child nutrition in Africa
Hunger and undernutrition are widespread problems in Africa. At the same time, overweight, obesity, and related chronic diseases are also on the rise.

Read More: Nutrition News and Nutrition Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.