Eating healthy: Why ‘do’ is better than ‘don’t’

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New York: If you want to inculcate healthy eating habits in your child, tell him what he ‘can’ eat rather than telling him what he ‘can’t’, advises a new study.

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“Telling your child to eat an apple so they stay healthy will work better than telling them not to eat the cookie because it will make them fat. “Don’t” messages don’t work for most of us,” researchers at Cornell University said.

The findings showed that focusing on ‘Do’ is better than on ‘Don’t’. That is, stressing the benefits of eating healthy foods is more effective than warning against the harm of eating unhealthy foods.

“If you’re a parent, it’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harm of hamburgers,” said lead author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

The researchers analysed 43 published international studies that involved either negative or positive nutrition messages.

They found that while negative messages tended to work best with experts – like dieticians and physicians – who were highly involved and knowledgeable in the area, most people who did not know a lot about nutrition would rather be told what they should eat and why it is good for them.

The researchers recommended that when designing public health messaging campaigns, focus on positive consequences of target healthy behaviours rather than focusing on the negative consequences.