"There seems to be a consensus among children that healthy food isn't socially acceptable."
Dr Rachel Povey, Lecturer in Psychology
Schoolchildren are worried about being teased for eating fruit and vegetables according to research by psychologists at Staffordshire University.
The study by Dr Rachel Povey and Lisa Cowap, published in the British Food Journal, is based on interviews with a small sample of 9 to 11 year olds attending an after school club associated with a primary school in a deprived area in the West Midlands.
Dr Povey explained: "We wanted to understand children's attitudes towards fruit and vegetables to enable us to explore how those beliefs influence their behaviour. We targeted 9 to 11 years olds because of increasing levels of obesity during primary school."
The results from the study were encouraging and showed that the children had a good awareness of the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, however, they also had negative beliefs towards such foods.
Some beliefs were associated with the senses such as taste and texture - 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 siblings and friends were sometimes shown to have negative influences, including teasing children for being “square” for eating fruit and vegetables.
Rachel said: "The children did have a good knowledge of healthy eating and support from their families so it was interesting to learn about the strong influence of peers. There seems to be a consensus among children that healthy food isn't socially acceptable."
Another issue raise by the children was the perceived inconvenience of preparing fruit and vegetables. Rachel and Lisa suggest that interventions could include increasing the availability of pre-prepared fruits and vegetables in both home and school environments.
They also recommend making fruit and vegetables more appealing by encouraging children to make pictures with different types of chopped fruit, or chopping them into interesting shapes.
"We are surrounded by advertisements for unhealthy foods yet never really see fruit and veg advertised so we have held poster competitions in primary schools where children discuss and draw fruit and veg to create their own 'adverts'." Rachel commented.
"There's also some great work being carried out by colleagues across the University including our head chef John Whittle who is teaching schoolchildren about healthy living and basic cooking skills.
"Our study has shown that working with children from a young age to create positive relationships with healthy food is incredibly important and we’re really excited to continue this kind of work."
Both Rachel and Lisa are members of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research and the Centre for Health Psychology based at Staffordshire University. Find the full study here - "They said I'm a square for eating them": Children's beliefs about fruit and vegetables in England
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