The purpose of this paper is to examine the behaviors and social interactions among preschool children and their teachers during food consumption at a daycare facility. Using social cognitive theory, the goal is to identify how role modeling, rules, behaviors and communication shape these young consumers’ health-related food consumption and habits.
This study was conducted in a US daycare facility among preschool children (aged four years) over a three-month period. Qualitative ethnographic methods included participant and non-participant observation of meals and snack-time.
Findings from the observations revealed that teachers’ food socialization styles and social interactions with peers cultivate children’s food consumption. In addition, commensality rules set by the childcare institution also help children learn other valuable behaviors (e.g. table manners and cleaning up).
The study was conducted in one location with one age group so the results may not be generalized to all children. As more young children spend time in preschools and daycare centers, the understanding of how these settings and the caregivers and peers influence them becomes more important. Preschool teachers can influence their young students’ food consumption through their actions and words. Training teachers and cultivating educational programs about ways to encourage healthy eating habits could be implemented.
The paper offers observations of actual behaviors among young children in a naturalistic setting.
This research would not have been possible without the support of many people in the Department of Advertising at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The authors wish to thank members of the Qualitative Methods in Advertising class; especially Gunwoo Yoon, Da Zheng, Ningzi Li, Chuqiao Huang, Qiong Li, Xinxin Shi and Pu Wang.
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