Can Emojis Help Kids Make Healthier Food Choices?

by Sumdima Rai
Who does not use emojis? We use them oh so often to convey emotions on chat, in emails, and other social media interactions. But what if you could use these emojis to influence your kids' food eating habits?

A study recently published in the journal Appetite found that children were more likely to make healthy food choices when shelves were labeled with ‘emolabels’ (emojis that illustrate a message) that were almost identical to the ones you use on your phones. Greg Privitera from University Of Phoenix School Of Advanced Studies said that until now, "children have been asked to sit on the sidelines while adults handle this obesity crisis… The thought that came to my mind was, ‘Why aren’t we involving children and empowering them to be part of the solution?’”

In the study, children between the ages of five and 11 were given brief instructions on how to use emoji labels—smiling faces meant healthy and frowning faces meant unhealthy. The kids were then guided to a contrived grocery store and were asked to select four healthy items. In each of the two aisles, researchers placed 12 identical foods, but one aisle had emolabels while the other did not. At the end of the study, they found that when children used emojis to guide them, 83 percent switched at least one of their favorite food items for a healthier choice. (Isn’t that cool?)

Privitera explains: “While children lack health literacy (eg, nutrition, calories), they have an astute understanding of emotion. Thus, emotion was used because it appealed most to the intelligence of children who are at pre- to early literary stages. We have found this approach to be most effective in making health information meaningful to children.” The next step to his research is a large-scale population-based study.

Another study by the Kansas State University Olathe discovered similar findings when they asked kids aged eight to 12 in focus groups to respond to how their favorite foods made them feel by using a list of words and emojis. Answers included “happy” and “guilty” while for foods they didn’t like, their responses included “sad,” “angry” and “disappointed.” The research team discovered that the emoji icons helped kids articulate their feelings. 

Katy Gallo, Kansas State University doctoral student in human nutrition based in Fairfield, Conn explains: “With recent changes in the National School Program, some schools have looked to taste tests to see whether or not kids like the food before putting on the menu..We really wanted a way to look at the emotions associated with foods kids are interacting with beyond whether or not they like something, and also give them terminology to help them explain their responses to food..Some of the things we noticed in these focus groups are that the kids are making a face or saying things like ‘bleck’ and that they don’t necessarily know what word attached to these reactions. However, we’ve seen that many can look at an emoji and feel that a certain face shows what they’re trying to convey.” So, parents, emojis could very soon be your next best friend in educating your child about healthy food choices. Here’s to the power of emojis!

Would you like food packages to have emojis in them to help you and your child make healthier food choices?
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