New research delves into children's beliefs about fruit, vegetables
New Delhi , Jan. 21 : Researchers recently conducted an interview study investigating primary school children's beliefs towards eating fruit and vegetables and the causes leading to it.The study has been published in the British Food Journal.
To gauge this, semi-structured interviews were conducted by Dr. Rachel Povey and Lisa Cowap, from the Centre for Health Psychology of UK-based Staffordshire University, along with Lucy Gratton, a Public Health Development Officer from Staffordshire Public Health, with children aged 9-11 from an after school club at a primary school in a deprived area of England.
The results from the study were encouraging as the children seemed to have a very good awareness of the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables.
However, children were also found to hold negative beliefs towards fruit and vegetables.
Some of these beliefs were associated with the senses (such as taste and texture), for example, one child described eating a mushroom to be like "eating a small furry animal" and another suggested that mushrooms tasted like "slimy worms".
Parents were found to be positive influences on children's eating habits, but surprisingly siblings and friends were sometimes shown to have negative influences, including teasing children for being "square" for eating fruit and vegetables.
On thorough analysis, six master themes were identified from the data. While each of these themes dealt with different beliefs about fruit and vegetable intake, they were also interrelated.
Theme 1: Effect on the senses- The way these food items appeared, smelled and tasted affected their consumption pattern. Several children believed that disguising fruit and vegetables using various methods such as covering them with sauces or mashing them with other foods cover up the effect of negative tastes and textures and made them easier to eat.
Theme 2: Feelings towards fruit and vegetables- Several of the children also felt that eating fruit and vegetables was a chore and used words like "got to" and "forced to" when describing their feelings. This implies that it was an activity that had to be undertaken regardless of choice, which negatively affects its desirability.
Theme 3: Healthy vs. unhealthy foods -Fruit and vegetables were often weighed up against unhealthy foods, which the children explained were foods such as chocolate, crisps and sweets. Most of the children were aware of the benefits of eating healthy rather than unhealthy foods. Yet some children had a preference for unhealthy foods. The appeal of these unhealthy foods had a tendency to be associated around desire, taste, accessibility and reward.
Theme 4: Effects on health - The ability to be more active from eating fruit and vegetables emerged as a sub-theme from some of the interviews. For instance, about half of the children were aware that fruit and vegetables have a positive impact on health; they provide energy, nutrients and enable them to be physically active. This display of knowledge shows that some of the children are extremely insightful into the reasons why they need to have fruit and vegetables in their diet.
Theme 5: Convenience - Increased accessibility to fruit and vegetables make it easier for children to eat these foods. The way the fruit and vegetables were prepared effected consumption. For instance, children found it more convenient to eat a fruit if it was sliced into pieces. It seems that preparation per se is a barrier they may face and have to overcome before consumption.
Theme 6: Family and friends -This final theme relates to how the participants' social environment influenced their intake and beliefs about fruit and vegetables. This includes influences from the people they are related to and the people they socialize with. For majority of the participants, the family unit, especially female members, were seen as positive social influences. They are encouraged by them to consume fruit and vegetables for health, variety of diet, weight loss and growth. Family members who were not portrayed as positive social influences in some cases were participants' brothers. Also, there was limited evidence in the interviews of the positive social influences of participants' friends in encouraging the consumption of fruit and vegetables. More commonly, participants perceived them as negative social influences.
Hereby, in this scenario, suggestions for interventions include increasing the appeal and availability of pre-prepared fruit and vegetables in both home and school environments. Additionally, influence of peers and older siblings to promote healthy eating as a positive social behavior is recommended as these groups appear to play a key role in terms of promoting the consumption of these foods.
This study is novel as it uses individual interviews to explore primary school children's attitudes towards fruit and vegetable consumption. By focusing on the specific behaviors of fruit and vegetable consumption, the findings aid the development of interventions that are designed to improve children's healthy eating behavior.