Facial expressions influence kids’ eating habits

March 24, 2011 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News

Facial expressions influence kids’ eating habits

According to new study findings from French researchers, kids eating habits are influenced by both facial expressions and body weight.

To investigate, researchers from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research asked 120 adults and children to look at various photos of people eating and rank their desire to eat that food.

Researchers found that kids had a much more complicated reaction than adults. 

In general, body weight largely influenced an adults desire to eat certain foods. That is, they were less likely to want a given food when the photo depicted an obese person eating it, versus a normal-weight diner.

Children, on the other hand, paid attention to both body weight and facial expression.

For the children, if the food was something they already liked, they wanted it, regardless of how heavy or thin the person in the photo was. But if they didn't like the food, their ratings of it declined even further if they saw a photo of an obese person consuming it.

What's more, photos of people happily eating made them want a favorite food even more - regardless of whether the eater was heavy or thin. In contrast, a photo of a person looking "disgusted" by that same food tended to turn the children off, regardless of the person's weight.

If a child disliked the food, seeing a diner with a pleasant expression made the child more open to the food. But that pleasant face was more effective when the person was thin rather than obese.

The study findings, published in the journal Obesity, suggest children have a more complex reaction to eating preferences, considering their own likes and dislikes, as well as other people's emotions.  They also suggest that having a positive attitude towards healthy food, and showing children how enjoyable healthy food can be, can help foster healthy eating habits.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.