Teenagers Will Eat Healthy Food If They Think It's Rebellious

You can always count on teenagers to be difficult. Many parents have given up hope on changing their habits, like having a clean room or driving slower. But one study has found that there's a way to make teenagers eat better.

According to a study from the University of Texas, appealing to a teenager's rebellious side when it comes to eating will make all the difference in the world. You can tell a teen all you want about the benefits of broccoli and the danger of doughnuts, but they're not going to listen to you. In fact, the research shows that telling them to eat well makes absolutely no difference in their diet.

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However, the team developed a breakthrough in tackling malnutrition and obesity: appeal to their defiant nature when telling them what to eat. "If the normal way of seeing healthy eating is that it is lame, then you don’t want to be the kind of person who is a healthy eater," said David Yeager, co-author of the study. "But if we make healthy eating seem like the rebellious thing that you do, you make your own choices, you fight back against injustice, then it could be seen as high status."

If you tell teenagers about the manipulative nature of the food industry, they're way more likely to listen because it's a matter of social justice. The researchers proved this by surveying 536 schoolchildren ranging from ages 13 to 15. Each kid was either given reading material that promoted healthy eating based on its long-term health benefits or material that told kids how junk food is addictive, can be deceptively labelled, and is targeted at young children and those from poorer backgrounds.

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In an apparently unrelated event, the head teacher offered the children a snack pack, the contents of which they could choose from a list. It turns out 54% of the kids who received no information or health-related material chose unhealthy snacks, while only 43% of the kids who learned about the negative aspects of the food industry chose junk food. Teenagers who learned about the food industry were also more likely to agree with statements like: "When I eat healthy, I am helping to make the world a better place."

The authors of the study suggested that this tactic not only be used for eating bad eating habits. They explained that this information can be a part of several campaigns, from motivating sick teenagers to take their medications, to encouraging young drivers to be safer on the roads. The trick is all about making something seemingly lame important to the teenagers. Parents everywhere: take note.