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Teens desire to rebel may be used to make them give up junk food

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

Teenagers' natural desire to rebel against authority could be tapped to drive them to replace with healthier choices, a study has found.

marketing, designed to foster strong positive associations with in kids' minds and to drive overeating, is one of the biggest obstacles in the public fight against

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, found that a simple and brief intervention can provide lasting protection for adolescents against these harmful effects of

The method works in part by tapping into teens' natural desire to rebel against authority, researchers said.

The team from in the US went into classrooms and had one group of students read a fact-based, expose-style article on big food companies.

The article framed the corporations as manipulative marketers trying to hook consumers on addictive for financial gain.

The stories also described deceptive product labels and that target vulnerable populations, including very young children and the poor.

A separate, control group of students received traditional material from existing health education programs about the benefits of healthy eating. The researchers found that the group that read the exposes chose and selected water over sugary sodas the next day.

Teens first read the marketing expose material, and then did an activity called "Make It True," meant to reinforce the negative portrayal of

The students received images of on with instructions to write or draw on the ads -- graffiti style -- to transform the ads from false to true.

The study found that the effects of the marketing expose intervention endured for the remainder of the school year -- a full three months.

The effects were particularly impressive among boys, who reduced their daily purchases of unhealthy drinks and snacks in the school cafeteria by 31 per cent in that time period, compared with the control group.

Researchers found that reframing how students view can spur adolescents, particularly boys, to make healthier daily dietary choices for an extended period of time.

"is deliberately designed to create positive emotional associations with junk food, to connect it with feelings of happiness and fun," Christopher J Bryan, from

The intervention produced an enduring change in both boys' and girls' immediate, gut-level, emotional reactions to messages.

Teenage boys, a notoriously group to convince when it comes to giving up junk food, started making and drink choices in their school cafeteria.

"One of the most exciting things is that we got kids to have a more negative immediate gut reaction to junk food and junk food marketing, and a more positive immediate gut reaction to healthy foods," said Bryan.

This relatively simple intervention could be an early sign of a public-health game changer, researchers said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, April 16 2019. 14:30 IST