Kids Are Getting Fat Because of… Books?

By Mike Pomranz |

© Paul Schiefer Photography

he common mantra is that young children need to spend less time in front of the TV and more time in front of a good book. Though recent research doesn’t dismiss this advice, it does question whether books are better than TV when it comes to reinforcing positive eating habits. In fact, it turns out books may be just as bad as the boob tube when it comes to glorifying sweets.

A study published earlier this year in the journal Appetite investigated the “food depictions in picture books for preschool children” by looking at a list of 100 “Favorite Books for Preschoolers” and isolating the 69 that specifically featured food in some way. Though these books depicted healthy foods such as fruits more than sweets, it was the way these different foods were “coded” that caught the researchers’ attention. Vegetables, for instance, were more likely to be portrayed in a neutral light, whereas sweets were portrayed in a positive way. Ice cream, specifically, “deserves a special mention,” researchers wrote, according to New York Magazine. “It was offered as a treat to celebrate an occasion, make someone feel better, and/or to indicate a happy ending. No other food enjoyed such a specific status with such a privileged connotation.”

But back to the TV comparison, though books tried to be better when it comes to promoting healthier foods – and they were strictly based the amount of depictions – when it came to how these foods were depicted, books weren’t much better than television. “The ratio of healthy foods to nutrient-poor foods was higher in the books,” the study summarizes. “However, as in television, the books emphasized the desirability of sweetened foods.”

Obviously you still want to spend time reading with your preschooler, but researchers suggest “simply being aware” of the way foods are portrayed. I guess I should consider some serious rewrites on my forthcoming children’s book Arthur the Angry Artichoke.