*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on USA Today.
A new study finds that teenagers will make smarter eating decisions after learning about manipulative practices used by food companies, such as engineering junk food to become addictive.
Researchers suggested such knowledge redirects teens’ rebellious nature, empowering them to defy food executives instead of their parents.
“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, a co-author of the study from the University of Texas, in the Guardian.
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.”
And if eating healthy becomes high status, Yeager said, people are more willing to do it in front of their peers.
Conversely, the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that providing information on the benefits of balanced eating proved as effective as providing no information at all.
Researchers divided students at a middle school in New Braunfels, Tex., into several groups. One group’s students read a fairly standard article on the benefits of a balanced diet. Those in another group read about how some food companies make junk food addictive, use deceptive labeling and market it toward young children. (The experiment involved 536 students in all.)
The next day, in a separate class, students were offered a choice of snacks as a reward for hard work. Options included junk food alongside healthier options, from Oreos, Doritos and Coca-Cola to fruit, baby carrots and water, according to the New York Times.
Teenagers who learned about manipulative practices in the food industry were 11 percentage points more likely to skip over at least one unhealthy snack.
That might seem small, the Times notes, but researchers said such choices would result in a loss of about a pound of body fat every six to eight weeks.