April 16 (UPI) — The urge for kids to buy junk food is made at a gut-level, triggered by elaborate marketing designed by the product’s manufacturer, a new study says.
A new marketing intervention, however, has shown to reduce that desire and cut boys daily purchases of unhealthy foods and drinks by 31 percent, according to research published Monday in Nature Human Behavior.
“Food marketing is deliberately designed to create positive emotional associations with junk food, to connect it with feelings of happiness and fun,” Christopher J. Bryan, a researcher at University of Chicago and study author, said in news release.
“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,” Bryan said.
To counter this effect, the researchers introduced a group of eighth graders in Texas to the techniques emotionally-charged marketing techniques junk food companies used to manipulate kids purchasing decisions. This helped reinforce negative depictions of junk food marketing material and, by association, the products themselves.
This intervention, in turn, helped the boys develop a negative gut reaction when looking at junk foods.
While the intervention didn’t show immediate effects on the junk food purchasing habits of girls, it was clear they responded to junk foods with a negative gut reaction, as well.
“What we’ve done is turn that around on the food marketers by exposing manipulation to teenagers, triggering their natural strong aversion to being controlled by adults,” Bryan said. “If we could make more kids aware of that, it might make a real difference.”