"We framed healthy eating as a way to 'stick it to the man,'" said one researcher.

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
© Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Parents have been trying to get kids to eat better for years. Now, a study suggests that the answer could lie in your teen's rebellious attitude. In a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team has analyzed how adolescent angst can be used to motivate healthier eating.

According to researcher Christopher J. Bryan of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (and every parent ever), most young teens are prone to acting against authority figures and exhibit an above-average sensitivity level to injustice. So they set out to see if they could coerce teens into eating better by portraying better food choices as acts of rebellion. "Our goal here was to portray healthy eating as a way to take a stand against injustice—to stand up for vulnerable people who lack the ability to protect themselves," Bryan tells Medical News Today.

To do this, the research team simply educated a eigth grades on how big food companies manipulate people into eating badly—by maximizing the addictiveness of junk food and marketing to young children and low-income populations. According to Bryan, "We framed healthy eating as a way to 'stick it to the man'—we cast the executives behind food marketing as controlling adult authority figures and framed the avoidance of junk food as a way to rebel against their control."

Following the discussion, the teens' eating choices were monitored. The researchers found that in the aftermath of their discussion, the middleschoolers were seven percent more likely to choose water over sugary beverages, and 11 percent more likely to pick a healthy snack over an unhealthy one.

Bryan hopes that this encouraging data could play an important role in getting young people to make more healthful choices going forward, and hopes more schools and parents will take up an anti-big food stance.