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A treat for the eyes. An eye-tracking study on children's attention to unhealthy and healthy food cues in media content

Spielvogel, Ines, Matthes, Jörg, Naderer, Brigitte, Karsay, Kathrin
Appetite 2018 v.125 pp. 63-71
children, eyes, girls, healthy diet, hunger
Based on cue reactivity theory, food cues embedded in media content can lead to physiological and psychological responses in children. Research suggests that unhealthy food cues are represented more extensively and interactively in children's media environments than healthy ones. However, it is not clear to this date whether children react differently to unhealthy compared to healthy food cues. In an experimental study with 56 children (55.4% girls; Mage = 8.00, SD = 1.58), we used eye-tracking to determine children's attention to unhealthy and healthy food cues embedded in a narrative cartoon movie. Besides varying the food type (i.e., healthy vs. unhealthy), we also manipulated the integration levels of food cues with characters (i.e., level of food integration; no interaction vs. handling vs. consumption), and we assessed children's individual susceptibility factors by measuring the impact of their hunger level. Our results indicated that unhealthy food cues attract children's visual attention to a larger extent than healthy cues. However, their initial visual interest did not differ between unhealthy and healthy food cues. Furthermore, an increase in the level of food integration led to an increase in visual attention. Our findings showed no moderating impact of hunger. We conclude that especially unhealthy food cues with an interactive connection trigger cue reactivity in children.