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Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 103, Issue 6, pp e453–e458 | Cite as

Healthy Choice?: Exploring How Children Evaluate the Healthfulness of Packaged Foods

  • Charlene ElliottEmail author
  • Meaghan Brierley
Qualitative Research
  • 1 Downloads

Abstract

Objectives: Today’s supermarket contains hundreds of packaged foods specifically targeted at children. Yet research has shown that children are confused by the various visual messages found on packaged food products. This study explores children’s nutrition knowledge with regard to packaged food products, to uncover strengths and difficulties they have in evaluating the healthfulness of these foods.

Methods: Focus groups were conducted with children (grades 1–6). Particular attention was paid to the ways children made use of what they know about nutrition when faced with the visual elements and appeals presented on food packaging.

Results: Children relied heavily on packages’ written and visual aspects - including colour, images, spokes-characters, front-of-package claims - to assess the healthfulness of a food product. These elements interfere with children’s ability to make healthy choices when it comes to packaged foods.

Conclusions: Choosing healthy packaged foods is challenging for children due to competing sets of knowledge: one pertains to their understanding of visual, associational cues; the other, to translating their understanding of nutrition to packaged foods. Canada’s Food Guide, along with the curriculum taught to Canadian children at schools, does not appear to provide children with the tools necessary to navigate a food environment dominated by packaged foods.

Résumé

Objectifs: Les supermarchés d’aujourd’hui proposent des centaines d’aliments emballés qui ciblent particulièrement les enfants. Or, des études ont montré que les enfants sont déconcertés par la grande variété des messages visuels que l’on trouve sur les emballages d’aliments. Nous explorons ici les connaissances nutritionnelles des enfants en ce qui a trait aux aliments emballés pour découvrir les forces et les difficultés des enfants lorsqu’il s’agit d’évaluer si des aliments sont bons pour la santé.

Méthode: Nous avons mené des groupes de discussion avec des écoliers (de la 1e à la 6e année) en portant une attention particulière aux façons dont ces enfants utilisent leurs connaissances sur la nutrition quand ils sont confrontés aux éléments visuels et aux incitations des emballages d’aliments.

Résultats: Les enfants font beaucoup appel aux aspects écrits et visuels de l’emballage (couleurs, images, personnages porte-parole, allégations sur le devant de l’emballage) pour évaluer si un produit alimentaire est bon ou non pour la santé. Ces éléments nuisent à leur capacité de faire des choix sains lorsqu’il est question d’aliments emballés.

Conclusion: Il est difficile pour les enfants de choisir des aliments emballés bons pour la santé, car deux jeux de connaissances s’opposent chez eux: l’un a trait à leur compréhension des repères visuels et associatifs, et l’autre, à l’application de leurs connaissances nutritionnelles aux aliments emballés. Ni le Guide alimentaire canadien, ni les programmes enseignés aux enfants canadiens à l’école ne semblent leur donner les outils nécessaires pour s’y retrouver dans un environnement alimentaire dominé par les produits emballés.

Key words

Child nutrition food labeling food preferences nutrition labeling product labeling, food 

Mots clés

enfant nutrition étiquetage aliments préférences alimentaires étiquetage nutritionnel étiquetage produits (aliments) 

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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication and CultureUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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