Children's Interpretation of Nutrition Messages

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      The purpose of this research was to further our understanding of how children understand and use nutrition messages. As part of formative assessment for the development of nutrition messages for elementary age school children, focus groups and one-on-one interviews were conducted with 141 students, grades K to 6. Children were asked to interpret the messages found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guide Pyramid and to indicate how they use food labels. In addition, they were asked to discuss their opinion of “good and bad foods” and “dieting” and to link specific foods with nutrition terms. Differences by cognitive development were found with younger children having more difficulty interpreting more abstract terms such as “variety” and “healthy weight.” Children in grades 3 to 6 who were asked about reading food labels had difficulty describing how they use labels and offered unrealistic criteria for determining the acceptability of food based on label information. While younger children freely used terms such as “low fat” or “low sugar,” they had difficulty in naming three foods within those categories. Our research suggests that nutrition messages need to be developmentally appropriate and give specific behavioral messages in order to positively inform the eating choices of children.
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