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Blog Key topics CO:RE at UTARTU Published: 22 Sep 2022

Does the use of the internet encourage children to try more diverse foods?

“My eating would be less varied and more boring if the internet didn’t exist.”

This was the concurring answer of two teenagers to my last pilot interview question where I wanted them to highlight how their eating would differ if the Internet did not exist (read more about the study in the author's bio at the bottom of this post). The answer of the two teenagers was, indeed, interesting as the lack of dietary variety due to a phenomenon called “food neophobia” is considered to be an important barrier to children’s and youth’s healthy eating [1, 2, 3].

Food neophobia – a typical phenomenon of childhood

Food neophobia or the fear of eating new food is an adaptive personality trait [3]. Many young children go through a peak of food neophobia starting around month 20 (after an initial period called PICA when babies are prone to ingest non-edible things as well) [3]. The fear of eating new food is thought to be a protection mechanism as young children do not know yet what categorizes edible or not [1, 3]. Ideally, children’s food neophobia gradually decreases as they grow older; but for some, food neophobia remains a dominant trait into adulthood [1, 3].

Overcoming food neophobia

Exposure is the primary way to decrease children’s food neophobia [3, 4]. Playful and experiential modes of food exploration, such as sensory play, gardening, and cooking, are particularly promising enablers of exposure and adaptations to more varied diets [5, 6]. Further, food modelling is also important: children are more likely to try a food if parents, teachers, or peers are eating it; while pressure to eat might make the situation worst [3, 7]. So, besides individual factors, such as personality but also sensory sensitivity [3], children’s social environment plays a key role.

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Snack posted for a food blog which was part of the author’s co-creation study with 9–12-year-old children [14].

The internet as a potential enabler to a varied diet?

Today, social media is part of children’s food socialization [8]. When reviewing the literature on food-related internet research for the interviews, I mainly came across risks such as exposure to the marketing of unhealthy food [9], lack of internal satiety cues when eating with a screen [10], and promotion of eating disorders through body negative messages [11]. However, the internet might offer some positive aspects regarding dietary variety and overcoming food neophobia. Namely, in online environments, children can experience visual exposure to a variety of foods that they might not encounter on their own plates. Further, eating behaviour is modelled to them through peers, influencers, and celebrities. For instance, food modelling has been used for the social marketing campaign “Eat Like a Pro” where FC Barcelona football players model healthy eating through YouTube videos [12, 13]. The internet also allows sharing one’s own content that can empower children to take their eating into their own hands, which, furthermore, creates promising settings for participatory action research and co-creation [e.g., 14]. Therefore, the internet's role on children’s and youth’s dietary variety and food neophobia might be an exciting direction to explore in future studies.

  1. Dovey, T. M., Staples, P. A., Gibson, E. L., & Halford, J. C. (2008). Food neophobia and “picky/fussy” eating in children: A review. Appetite, 50(2-3), 181–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2007.09.009.

  2. Proserpio, C., Almli, V. L., Sandvik, P., Sandell, M., Methven, L., Wallner, M., Jilani, H., Zeinstra, G. G., Alfaro, B., & Laureati, M. (2020). Cross-national differences in child food neophobia: A comparison of five European countries. Food Quality and Preference, 81, 103861. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2019.103861.

  3. Reilly, S. e. (2018). Food neophobia: Behavioral and biological influences. http://lib.ugent.be/catalog/ebk01:3790000000543731.

  4. image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Caton, S., Ahern, S., Remy, E., Nicklaus, S., Blundell, P., & Hetherington, M. (2013). Repetition counts: Repeated exposure increases intake of a novel vegetable in UK pre-school children compared to flavour–flavour and flavour–nutrient learning. British Journal of Nutrition, 109(11), 2089–2097. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114512004126.

  5. image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ DeCosta, P., Møller, P., Frøst, M. B., & Olsen, A. (2017). Changing children’s eating behaviour – A review of experimental research. Appetite, 113, 327–357. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2017.03.004.

  6. image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Højer, R., Wistoft, K., & Frøst, M. B. (2020). Play with your food and cook it! Tactile play with fish as a way of promoting acceptance of fish in 11- to 13-year-old children in a school setting – A qualitative study. Nutrients, 12(10), 3180. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12103180.

  7. Nicklaus, S., & Monnery-Patris, S. (2018). Food neophobia in children and its relationships with parental feeding practices/style. In S. Reilly (Ed.), Food Neophobia (pp. 255–286). Woodhead Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-101931-3.00013-6.

  8. Ragelienė, T., & Grønhøj, A. (2021). The role of peers, siblings and social media for children’s healthy eating socialization: A mixed methods study. Food Quality and Preference, 93, 104255. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2021.104255.

  9. Kucharczuk, A. J., Oliver, T. L., & Dowdell, E. B. (2022). Social media’s influence on adolescents’ food choices: A mixed studies systematic literature review. Appetite, 168, 105765. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2021.105765.

  10. Tabares-Tabares, M., Moreno Aznar, L. A., Aguilera-Cervantes, V. G., Leon-Landa, E., & Lopez-Espinoza, A. (2022). Screen use during food consumption: Does it cause increased food intake? A systematic review. Appetite, 171, 105928. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2022.105928.

  11. Wilksch, S. M., O’Shea, A., Ho, P., Byrne, S., & Wade, T. D. (2020). The relationship between social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 53(1), 96–106. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23198.

  12. Beko Appliances USA (2018, February 15). Eat like a pro with Beko: Fun in the kitchen [video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f951ZbFMYxA.

  13. UNICEF (2019). The state of the world’s children 2019, Children, food and nutrition, Growing well in a changing world. https://www.unicef.org/reports/state-of-worlds-children-2019.

  14. image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Galler, M., Myhrer, K. S., Ares, G., & Varela, P. (2022). Listening to children voices in early stages of new product development through co-creation – Creative focus group and online platform. Food Research International, 154, 111000. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2022.111000.

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Martina Galler recently finished her PhD within the Marie Skłodowska-Curie EU project Edulia which aimed to bring down barriers to children’s healthy eating. She is currently working in a project team of sensory, consumer and innovation researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima), with the aim to study how digital maturity might spill over to children’s food choices and eating behaviour. She is interested in methodological aspects of conducting research with children and youth.
In the above referred pilot research, she was testing an interview protocol for a study within the EU project DIGYMATEX. At the core of DIGYMATEX is the measurement of children’s and adolescents’ (aged 9-16) digital maturity.

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