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Taxpayer-funded study finds 8- to 10-year-old boys think veggies are for girls

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(The Center Square) – Some boys think certain foods are for girls, according to a study of kids ages 8 through 10 conducted by researchers at the University of Oregon College of Education. Appetite, an international research journal, recently published the federally-funded findings, according to the school.

During the study, researchers offered children a large spread for lunch. It included sandwich ingredients, chicken nuggets, fruits and vegetables, chips, candy, and various drinks.

“Please eat until you are no longer hungry and take as much time as you need,” researchers told each child before they left to eat privately.

The researchers then measured what the children ate and how much of it they consumed.

The study concluded that boys with high “social desirability bias,” or those who act in ways typically seen as socially acceptable to others, consumed fewer fruits and vegetables. However, the same was not true of girls.

“This may reflect some data suggesting that boys and girls have an idea from an early age which foods are viewed as ‘girly’ and which are seen as ‘manly,’” Nichole Kelly, first author and Evergreen Associate Professor in counseling psychology and human services in the college, said in a release. “Boys may be less inclined to eat ‘girl foods’, like fruits and vegetables if they fear social ramifications.”

The study did not address what adults in children’s lives can do to combat these food stereotypes. However, Kelly wants adults to better understand how they talk about certain foods so they can be positive role models.

“All foods are for all bodies of all genders,” Kelly said. “When television ads or other media suggest otherwise, adults can gently challenge and correct these stereotypes.”

The research also found parallels exist between the eating behaviors of parents and their children.

“When children see the boys and men in the family eating fruits and vegetables — and the whole family enjoying a range of foods without guilt, shame or commentary — they can develop a more positive relationship with food and steer clear of gendered stereotypes,” Kelly said.

It is the first-ever eating behavior research looking at the social desirability bias in children to show that they adjust what they eat to avoid others, including the research team, viewing them negatively.

Additionally, the study found that boys and girls with higher social desirability bias ate unhealthy snack foods, like chips, candy, and cookies.

Kelly expressed concern that avoiding specific foods out of fear of judgment can lead to overeating and other eating disorders. She said that it makes those “off-limits” foods more enticing to people.

“These findings really speak to the importance of talking about food without value judgments,” Kelly said.

A link between social desirability bias and eating in adults, including women, has been well-documented in the past, according to the release. However, it had not been studied in children until now.

“That’s significant because it will help researchers design ways to more accurately record what kids eat, which is key to understanding and intervening with eating behaviors,” the release said.

Other co-authors on the paper included: Kelly Jean Doty, Claire Guidinger, Austin Folger, Gabriella Luther, and Nicole Giuliani. They are all a part of the Prevention Science Institute, a multidisciplinary research institute at the university.

A Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development grant funded this research. The school did not yet respond to a request for the amount of the grant.

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