Human beings possess an innate preference for sweet, high fat and salty foods and a reluctance to accept bland foods. Early experiences are critical in shaping an individual’s future food preferences.
Taste is the most important determinant of food preferences. The evaluation of food taste can be imbibed through the learning process. Studies indicate that repeated exposure increases the probability of liking disliked foods and information that 'a new food tastes good!' influences the propensity to try that food. In the process, nutrition appears to be compromised.
Can Media Affect Eating Habits in Children?
Food preferences develop early, say by age 2 or 3. Early parent modelling of both healthy and unhealthy food consumption influences food preferences. But peers, social institutions and social media in general (advertisements in YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter apart from the television) are all believed to play an important role in influencing food preferences.
On screen time can take a toll on the children’s nutrition. Children learn much about their social world through observation of the media. Some foods that are encouragingly shown in the commercials do not do them any favours when it comes to feeding their ‘growing brains and bodies’. Many are high in solid fats, added sugar, sodium and/or empty calories and they often lack vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. They contain ingredients that are not suitable for children.
How Can You Tame This Temptation And Promote Healthier Eating?
Start Early In Life!
- Create an environment that avoids screen and media exposure while eating.
- Eating together regularly without distraction offers to promote healthy eating and family bonding.
- Limiting media exposure to only children’s program without advertisements.
- Spending time together in empowering about foods, exposing the children to garden, grocery shops, encouraging children to read the labels of individual foods and helping in distinguishing healthy from unhealthy foods are some of the steps.
- Encouraging them to eat more fruits and vegetables, fibre rich foods and discussing the benefits of the same.
- Being a role model as a parent in ‘walking the talk’. Children learn by observing others as ‘seeing is believing’.
- As a caring parent, it is important to reinforce the importance of choosing healthy foods and beverages at an earlier age and to limit the usage of electronic devices.
After all, “Healthy food makes a healthy life”!
Dr Pushkala, MBBS, MD (Paediatrics), PGDID (UNSW) (Australia), PGPN (Boston) is a Consultant Pediatrician, Kauvery Hospital, Chennai