Children don’t know how to get proper nutrition information online

Kids need to be trained on how to find child-specific information from credible sources, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior


Philadelphia, May 6, 2020

Children looking for health information online could end up more prone to obesity. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier, shows a lack of digital health literacy can lead children to misinterpret portions, adopt recommendations intended for adults, or take guidance from noncredible sources.

Researchers recruited 25 children ages 9-11 years old from a summer youth camp, with their parents’ permission. Parents said the children use the internet for an hour or two several days week, both at home and in school.

“We ran this study to see whether children could find the correct answers to obesity-related health questions online, plus see how they go about searching for such information,” explained lead study author Paul Branscum, PhD, RD, of Miami University, Oxford, OH, USA.

What Professor Branscum and his colleague found surprised him. Even with the internet at their fingertips, only three children could correctly say how many food groups there are and name them, and none of the children could correctly say how much of each food group they should eat.

Each question was first posed to the children without using the internet to see how much they already knew on their own. On one question, “How much physical activity or exercise should you get each day?” the number of correct responses actually went down after they used the internet. Eight children changed their answers from correct responses to incorrect ones when they didn’t recognize the difference between guidance for adults and children.

“What also surprised me that I hadn’t expected at all was how often children went straight to Google Images to find the answers to certain questions,” Professor Branscum said. “Some kids would do the search then not even look at the search results but click on the Images tab and just use that information, looking through the images to get their answer.”

Researchers gave one parent per child a standard print survey known as the Health Literacy Skills Instrument. It tested their own nutritional knowledge, as studies have shown parents’ nutritional literacy can impact children. All of them rated as either “basic” or “proficient” on a three-point scale.

Professor Branscum says this research points to real vulnerabilities in our nutrition education system and possible future problems in our public health system, as lack of knowledge in our children today can lead to health problems in our adults tomorrow.

He plans to continue his work in this field by developing a program to teach children these digital literacy skills, including how to tell which sources are credible, looking for child-specific recommendations, understanding portion size, and perseverance to keep searching until you find the information you are looking for.

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Notes for editors
The article is "How Children Search for Health Information Online: An Observational Study," by Paul Branscum, PhD, RD, FAAHB; and Natalie Patricio-Agosto, MS (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2020.02.002). It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, volume 52, issue 5 (May 2020), published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at 732 238 3628 or jnebmedia@elsevier.com to obtain a copy. To schedule an interview with the author(s), please contact Paul Branscum at branscpw@miamioh.edu.

An audio podcast featuring an interview with Branscum and other information for journalists are available at https://www.jneb.org/content/podcast. Excerpts from the podcast may be reproduced by the media with permission from Eileen Leahy.

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB)
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. www.jneb.org

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. www.elsevier.com

Media contact
Eileen Leahy
Elsevier
+1 732 238 3628
jnebmedia@elsevier.com