Connecting to Kids in the Supermarket 

The Lempert Report
October 02, 2015

Wondering what stands out to kids in supermarkets? Check out this latest method used by the University of Minnesota.

According to the CDC childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years and while we know that this is largely linked to diet habits and food environment, gathering research on these topics from the kids themselves isn't easy. 

In a recent study of 9- to 13-year-old children eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), however, researchers from the University of Minnesota, found a tool to shed some light; the Photovoice method. This idea combines photographs taken by participants with interviews about the photos, and has been shown to be effective in conducting research and building trust with children. In the study, children were given disposable cameras and instructed to take photos of commonly consumed foods at home, school, and in their communities, in addition to photos of the people who influenced their food consumption. Researchers then not only analyzed the photos but selected 3 to 5 photos to discuss in interviews with the children. Here, the kids explained why they photographed certain foods and how the people and places they photographed were related to their experiences with food.

For many of the kids involved in the study, food insecurity was illustrated in the images and discussed in interviews. Most refrigerators, freezers, and pantries were half full, but some were nearly empty. According to the study, children noted their family's use of SNAP was what determined food available to them. In addition researchers found that while peers and siblings are the most involved at meal times, parents determined what food was available by shopping, cooking education, and passing on cultural norms. 

This kind of research can be really helpful when trying to determine how and where kids’ diets need to be improved. And the method used here is one that supermarkets could benefit from also and learn what kids are attracted to. Supermarkets could use RD's to give kids cameras and have them take pictures of their favorite foods in the aisles. The images kids come back with would give retailers the opportunity to learn a lot about what kids are looking at. For example, what height kids are most comfortable at and what products are at kids’ eye level. In the frozen food aisles if veggies are at kids heights is that what they are drawn to? Or are they still looking for the frozen pizzas? What displays appeal to them? What colors and packaging get their attention?  In learning what really appeals to kids, Supermarkets can help promote healthier snacks, products and treats by designing and placing them in ways we know kids will take note.