Analyzing Picture Books for Nutrition Education

Recommended books must be reviewed carefully, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Philadelphia, PA October 6, 2016

Feeding children can be a challenging process for many parents. A previous study found 46% of preschoolers were picky eaters and 40% of picky eaters remained picky for two or more years. Nutrition education and recommended feeding practices may help parents deal with feeding problems and shorten their duration. Books may be used as resources to help teach children to overcome poor eating habits. Thus, a content analysis was conducted to assess messages about dietary behaviors and feeding strategies in a set of picture books.

For the analysis, Oksana Matvienko, PhD, of the School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA, selected picture books that were fiction, published between 2000 and 2016, accessible in the United States, in print format, and appropriate for children 4 to 8 years old. The study included books found in children’s literature and publishing industry databases as well as retail and book-oriented websites. The books were then coded to capture themes and patterns presented in the stories. The selection process revealed 104 books that portrayed dietary behaviors.

“The books had positive messages about good eating habits that were communicated in creative, clever, believable, child-friendly, non-preachy, and non-forceful manners, which is what parents prefer,” said Matvienko. “But many books delivered interesting, diverse, yet improbable ideas that did not align with science-supported nutritional guidelines.”

Of the books evaluated, 50% featured a specific eating behavior, 21% lifestyle or eating patterns, 20% food-related sensations and emotions, and 9% table manners. Some books had clear, direct messages whereas others could be vague, sophisticated, unconvincing, unresolved, or conflicting. The messages in the books were open to misinterpretation depending on many factors. Response actions and problem-solving approaches in books generally did not align with scientific consensus. Although the responsive feeding model, whereby children should be allowed to control their own food intake in the context of structured meals provided by adults, has been advocated for several decades by nutrition professionals, it did not find its way into fictional picture books.

“Picture books are a promising tool for improving children's eating habits, but practitioners should evaluate the book's clarity, accuracy, and strength before making recommendations,” said Matvienko. Because books are convenient, they may be a useful tool for parents to help children overcome poor eating habits. However, future research needs to be done examining picture books about dietary behavior alone and combined with other strategies for attaining optimal influence on children's food habits.

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Notes for editors
The article is “Qualitative Analysis of Dietary Behaviors in Picture Book Fiction for 4- to 8-Year-Olds,” by Oksana Matvienko, PhD, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2016.06.005. It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 48, Issue 9 (October 2016), published by Elsevier.  

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732-421-2820or jnebmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. To schedule an interview with the authors, please contact Oksana Matvienko, PhD, Associate Professor of Nutrition, School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services, University of Northern Iowa at +1 319-273-3613 or oksana.matvienko@uni.edu.  

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior(JNEB), the official Journal of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society’s efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society's official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications.

About Elsevier
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Media contact
Eileen Leahy
Elsevier
+1 732-421-2820
jnebmedia@elsevier.com