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26 April 2018

Teaching Parents Media Literacy Leads to a Healthier Home for Children

Keywords: food, health, literacy, marketing, media, parents, ERC, North America, computer, eating behavior, experiment, family communication, food commercials, internet, media literacy, print, teens, television,

Children can be highly receptive to food marketing, which may result in an unhealthy diet. According to a study in the Journal of Health Communication, a family-based media literacy intervention that teaches children and their parents about the marketing techniques used to influence food purchases may help. The study shows that the intervention improves parents’ media management skills and increases children’s resistance to appealing and unrealistic food marketing.

Take aways

  • Parents who participate in a family-based media literacy curriculum are more critical about food marketing, are better able to make healthier dietary decisions and foster family discussions about nutrition labels.
  • In turn, their children show more resistance to food marketing, since they less often ask for unhealthy, advertised food.

Study information

  • The question?

    Can a family-based media literacy intervention improve the nutritional home environment for children?

  • Who?

    50 9- to 14-year-olds (mean age: 11 years old) and 50 parents (mean age: 41 years old) assigned as pairs (77% was Caucasian, 15% Latino/a, 2% African-American, 1% Asian, and 4% other)

  • Where?

    United States

  • How?

    The researchers divided the parent-child pairs into two groups:

    1. In the intervention group, parent and child pairs followed six media literacy lessons, one each week. The curriculum aimed to improve children’s and parents’ resistance towards food marketing, parents’ ability to make healthier dietary decisions for their family, and foster discussions of nutrition labels in the family. 
    2. In the control group, parents and children did not receive this media literacy curriculum. 

    To assess the impact of the curriculum, all parents and children completed a questionnaire about their views on food and marketing before the first session and after the final session.

Facts and findings

  • Parents who followed the curriculum:
    • Made healthier dietary changes within the family. 
    • Critically discussed nutrition labels with their children. 
  • Children who followed the intervention: 
    • Asked less often for unhealthy, advertised food products.
    • Desired the unhealthy advertised food products less after critically discussing food marketing with their parents.
  • Critical note: The results of the study are based on self-administrated surveys of parents. This might have resulted in an overestimation of the change in healthy dietary changes and nutrition label discussions within the family as the advice to provide children with healthy food choices is regularly given. Therefore, the results should be interpreted with caution.