Skip the cartoons and lectures when teaching kids to eat healthily, advise teenage entrepreneurs

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Skip the cartoons and lectures when teaching kids to eat healthy, advise teenage entrepreneurs
Manufacturers and public health advocates hoping to inspire children to eat more healthily will have better luck if they partner with kids to deliver the message rather than adults who could be perceived as talking down to the target audience, delegates were told at The Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in Washington, DC.

“Underestimating kids is something we have done as a society for a long time, but we need to realize that this is the smartest generation we have had in a long time. These kids are learning C++, Mandarin and Arabic. If you have a problem with your phone,”​ chances are you’ll hand it to someone younger to fix, Tanya Steel, founder of consultancy Cooking Up Big Dreams, told attendees.

As a result, she said, “we have done a lot of dumbing down of messages that we don’t need to,”​ and the result can be alienating those who companies and public health advocates are trying to reach or causing them to turn away disdainfully and distrustfully.

A more effective way to reach children is by giving them the tools to deliver messages about healthy eating and nutrition to each other, she said.

“Don’t underestimate us,”​ Amber Kelly, the 15-year-old CEO of the YouTube channel Cook with Amber, confirmed at the conference. “We can do a pretty good job.”

She explained that while everyone in kids’ lives impact their decisions, the biggest impact on children come from kids like her and the other entrepreneurs and public health advocates under the age of 18 on stage with her at the PHA Summit.

“There is this whole idea of well, ‘if he can do it, I can do it,’ or ‘if she is doing it, I can do it, too, … because I am a kid just like them,’”​ she explained.

She also underscored a foundational truth the most marketers know but often forget when it comes to targeting kids: “When you are spreading a message, no matter what it is, you want to make it relatable." And ​who better to relate to than another kid?

Engage kids in hands on learning

Marketers and public health advocates also will more likely get their message across if they do so in a “fun and engaging way that truly makes and impact,”​ Haile Thomas, the 17-year-old CEO of the Happy Organization, told attendees. 

“What we do with my nonprofit at summer camps is we present kids with the opportunity to use real knives and real stoves and create with different spices and try different ingredients”​ so that they experience firsthand that “healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring spinach that is just sitting there on a plate.”

She also recommends that marketers show children how making healthy dietary choices can allow them to do something else they love.

“Ultimately, we are not going to be our best if we are not feeding our bodies the best foods. So showing them that and how [following a healthy diet] can propel you to have the energy and vitality to go forward toward your dreams and goals”​ is powerful, she said.

Social media is key

As for how best to deliver these messages – social media was the resounding recommendation from the panel of children.

“Nowadays, everyone is always on their phone. You know, my phone is sitting right over there. If you are going to be on the phone all the time, why not see those messages there?”​ Kelley said. She noted that she follows on Instagram people who have creative recipes and beautiful food photos, but there are also “many cool ripped people if you want to be inspired by that”​ and are more into fitness.

“YouTube is great as well. What I think is so great about YouTube is it is short and gets to the point. You don’t have to watch this huge drawn out TV show or whatever. And no matter what you are looking for,”​ you can find it because there are so many people using it to communicate, she said.

An Instagram post, video or even a Tweet also allows manufacturers to reach more people quickly, added Thomas.

However, she cautioned, to be effective the message – not just the means of delivering it -- needs to be modern.

For example, she said, while cartoons might have worked for young children in the past, Thomas said, “there are some 8-year-olds who are just not into that stuff. They want memes or something more sophisticated. So, I think, just adjusting to the times and the sophistication potential will help children absorb this information and acknowledge it.”

Editor's Note: If you are interested in learning more about how to effectively market or develop children's products, join us at The FoodNavigator-USA Summit: FOOD FOR KIDS, this fall in Chicago. Get all the details HERE​.

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