Cooking shows can encourage healthy eating behaviour

Date: 25 September 2018

Introduction: Scientists at KU Leuven and UAntwerp conducting research into children's cooking shows.

Television programmes about cooking, famous chefs and their dishes are very popular among both young and old. Research conducted at the universities of Antwerp and Leuven has now shown that cooking programmes aimed specifically at children often feature unhealthy dishes. But the study also found that seeing good examples on screen encourages children to eat more healthily.

“We already knew from a small number of international studies that dishes prepared by famous television chefs tend not to score very well in terms of healthiness,” says Prof. Charlotte De Backer, associated with the Department of Communication Sciences at the University of Antwerp. “We now explored this issue in programmes aimed specifically at children. Programme makers, in particular, should think carefully very about what they are teaching their audiences.”

Fruit instead of biscuits

The UAntwerp study reveals that even dishes cooked in children's programmes, such as MasterChef Junior, do not score as highly as they should. De Backer: “We used a colour system, very similar to the Nutriscore. The dishes we examined, ranging from hamburgers to vegetarian pastas, very often scored orange-red.”

There’s no need to panic, however, or start cancelling these programmes. “The good news is that our research also shows that such programmes can encourage young viewers to adopt a healthy lifestyle: after seeing a cooking show about healthy eating, for example, children were more likely to reach for a piece of fruit than a biscuit. The power of cookery programmes, TV chefs and food gurus should not be underestimated, and together we can work towards promoting healthy eating on a larger scale.”