Researchers have suggested for years that the enormous amount of food marketing bombarding kids and teens contributes to rising levels of obesity. New research published in Nature Human Behaviour suggests an ingenious workaround: exposing teenagers to the food industry’s marketing techniques to tap into their natural desire to rebel — this time, against the snack makers themselves.
“Anyone who has spent time around teenagers knows how powerful their feelings of outrage can be,” says David Yeager, a co-author on the study and an associate professor of psychology at UT Austin. “But what nobody had figured out was how to harness that energy to promote public health. Our experiment showed that teens’ feelings of righteous indignation are powerful enough to overcome the positive emotional associations with junk food that are created by the food companies’ manipulative marketing practices.”
Researchers went into 8th grade classrooms in a Texas middle school, issuing a fact-based, exposé-style article that described marketing practices aimed at hooking consumers on addictive junk food. The stories also described deceptive product labels and advertising practices.
The study’s approach produced an enduring change in both boys’ and girls’ emotional reactions to junk food marketing. And teenage boys, a notoriously difficult group to persuade when it comes to giving up junk food, continued making healthier food and drink choices three months later.