« Effective behavioral strategies for children food choices »


Establishing positive eating habits from early childhood is not easy in a world in which negative food habit development is largely favoured by the environment. This fi eld has certainly grown during the last few years, however more data is still necessary in order to get positive and permanent eating habits.

This issue welcomes three interesting papers all dedicated to understanding some of the many factors that infl uence eating habits.

The fi rst paper is dedicated to the relationship between short sleep and food choice. The authors demonstrate that adolescents sleeping less than seven hours per night show a 25 per cent decrease in the odds of having an adequate fruit and vegetables consumption and a 20 per cent increase in the odds of fast food consumption. Clearly, this study shows the complexity of the environment in which we live and how many different factors require consideration in order to improve our children’s health. The study also suggests that increasing the length of sleep seems to improve healthy foods choice both by adults and adolescents.

The second paper concerns the importance of not skipping breakfast. A complex intervention, titled “Giocampus” targeting children between the ages of 9 and 11 years, their parents and their teachers was implemented from 2008 to 2011 in schools. The authors found that children who attended the course on nutrition had breakfast much more frequently than children who did not participate in the programme.

The topic of the third paper is also related to breakfast, but in this case the setting is very different and unusual. In this study, participants attending a conference were used as “Guinea pigs” by the authors who, very smartly, used a conference breakfast hall to implement an observational study. Modifying the foods served in a breakfast buffet successfully altered the food choice made by the attendants. The diners choose the fi rst foods on the buffet regardless whether the foods were healthy or unhealthy. Using this as an example, it may be possible that children eating at the school cafeteria could be helped to rightly choose healthy foods in a safe and simple way, without spending a cent. As the three studies show, it is important to look for innovative and inexpensive interventions, as they have to be long term to be effective. On the other hand, these types of interventions have been already largely applied by food industry. In supermarkets the presence of foods loved by children at children’s height or close to the cash register is an effective selling strategy. The recruitment of sporting or television personalities to advertise snacks has been applied for many years in the marketing strategies of food industry, and the “Giocampus” protocol highlights its potential use to promote healthy eating. Creating stable healthy eating habits for children and their families is a dream, and one that requires further work from a number of perspectives.

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