El Estoque

Teens growing up with healthy eating habits at home are more likely to make healthy dietary decisions on their own, study finds

How food rules inform teens' dietary decisions

Daniel Lin

A study conducted by researchers at Stanford University revealed that adolescents who grew up in households with health-conscious food rules are more likely to make healthy eating choices independently.  The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Stanford researchers Jennifer Wang and Priya Fielding-Singh, details the importance of making food rules at home, and what rules specifically can contribute to teenagers making healthy dietary choices on their own.

The two discovered that rules such as enforcing that a vegetable should be eaten during dinnertime or reserving junk food for certain occasions has a positive effect on teenagers because the rules place an emphasis on forming healthy habits. Meanwhile, rules that had nothing to do with health, like banning cell phones at the table, did not have an effect on forming healthy habits.

In the study, researchers sampled a Bay Area high school, consisting of 1,246 students, asking their dietary preferences and what they thought of their parents’ attitudes regarding food. More important to Wang and Fielding-Singh were how teenagers made choices in the absence of their parents. In their study, the researchers implemented a controlled experiment. Students were told that if they participated in the study, they would be entered into a raffle in which they could have two snacks of their choosing. Some teenagers were told they would need their parents’ permission to redeem their snacks, while some were told they did not need parental approval. From there, the students were allowed to choose two from 10 snacks, five of which were more healthy, and five of which were less healthy.

From these results, Wang and Fielding-Singh determined that students who had one or more healthy food rule were significantly more likely to pick healthier snacks, in addition to being more likely to feel positive when making healthy choices and negative when making unhealthy choices.

The study better informs parents how to encourage their children to form healthy habits and how teenagers learn to make healthier choices in the absence of their parents.