Adolescents are exposed to extensive marketing for junk food, which drives overconsumption by creating positive emotional associations with junk food1,2,3,4,5,6. Here we counter this influence with an intervention that frames manipulative food marketing as incompatible with important adolescent values, including social justice and autonomy from adult control. In a preregistered, longitudinal, randomized, controlled field experiment, we show that this framing intervention reduces boys’ and girls’ implicit positive associations with junk food marketing and substantially improves boys’ daily dietary choices in the school cafeteria. Both of these effects were sustained for at least three months. These findings suggest that reframing unhealthy dietary choices as incompatible with important values could be a low-cost, scalable solution to producing lasting, internalized change in adolescents’ dietary attitudes and choices.
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The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Researchers must agree to the terms of data use, including analysis on a secure server and prohibitions against any analysis that risks exposing the identity of the participating students (that is, deductive disclosure). Requests for data should be directed to E. Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The syntax used to produce all of the results reported in this article is available at https://osf.io/2wuh3/.
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The authors are grateful to C. Dweck, R. Dahl, J. Risen, B. Bonikowski, G. Cohen, S. James, K. Wysen and K. Pathakis for helpful feedback on previous drafts, A. Audette, Q. Hirschi, F. (N.) Medrano and members of the Adolescent Development Research Group for help with data collection, and A. Kim and staff in the participating school district for partnership and support. Financial support to develop the intervention and carry out data analysis was provided in part by grants from the Character Lab (principal investigator: C.J.B.; co-investigator: D.S.Y.), Templeton Foundation, via the University of Chicago New Paths to Purpose project (principal investigator: C.J.B., co-investigator: D.S.Y.), William T. Grant Foundation (principal investigator: D.S.Y.) and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (grant numbers 10.13039/100000071 R01HD084772-01 (principal investigator: D.S.Y.) and P2C-HD042849 to the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin). Preparation of this manuscript was supported by a fellowship from the FMC faculty research fund at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business (to C.J.B.), a fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (to C.J.B.) and a William T. Grant Scholars award (to D.S.Y.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.