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Activity 3: Coolish or Foolish — Talking about peer pressure and food choices

Time: 45–60 minutes  

Introduction

Human beings are social animals. What we know, how we feel, and even what we do is often influenced by our peers as well as our family members. This is also true when it comes to food. Many of us face social pressures that influence us to eat non-healthfully. These social pressures may come from friends, family members, food companies, restaurants or other sources, such as the Internet.

Overview

This exercise will help participants better understand some of the social/peer pressures that influence how family members from other generations think about food and make food-related decisions.

Objectives/skills

General Objectives:

Participants will demonstrate awareness of the challenges faced by family members of different generations who want to make healthful food choices despite social pressure from their peers to eat unhealthfully.

Participants will describe 1–2 strategies to increase their support for family members who want to eat healthfully.

Specific Objectives:

Participant will be able to:

  • Discuss 2–3 barriers and solutions to eating healthfully when friends or family members are a negative influence.
  • Describe 1–2 strategies to assist other family members in eating healthfully when influenced by negative peer pressure.

Materials

  • Copies of “Coolish or Foolish” worksheets
    (see Handouts 1–3 [1–3])
  • Pens and paper

Steps

  1. Introduction: Many of us face social influences (from marketing and advertising campaigns and from friends and family members) that sway us to eat non-healthfully. This activity is designed to help identify social pressures from our friends and colleagues that may affect how we and other members of our families think about and behave when it comes to food.
  2. Break into family groupings; one family per group or if the family group is smaller than 3 persons, have 2 families join one another.
  3. There are three Coolish or Foolish handouts, each asking a series of questions about a major piece of advice given out by nutrition educators. For each handout, family members will answer some questions about how they (and their peers) view this piece of nutrition advice. If time is limited, have each family choose and work with only one or two handouts instead of all three.

    Here is the process:
    1. Give out the first handout — Talking about Peer Pressure and Fruits and Vegetables.

      Handout 1-3 (1): Talking about Peer Pressure and Fruits and Vegetables

      Choose one person to take notes. Have each member state whether making 1/2 of you plate fruits and vegetables is “coolish” or “foolish” from the perspective of their own peer group.

      For example, if a teenager was with his/her friends, would they say the advice is coolish or foolish? The person taking notes will circle “coolish” or “foolish”under the “youth” category. After family members state why they chose “foolish” or “coolish,” proceed to the remaining questions. When the chart is all filled out, have participants share why they responded the way they did. Encourage them to consider the similarities and/or differences between family members. Hopefully, this will likely generate much discussion — a goal of this workshop.
    2. Give out the second handout — Talking about Peer Pressure and Fried Foods.

      Handout 1-3 (2): Talking about Peer Pressure and Fried Foods

      The focus here is on the advice given by nutrition educators to choose baked chicken (potatoes) more often than fried chicken (or French Fried Potatoes).
    3. Give out the third handout — Talking about Peer Pressure and Sugar.

      Handout 1-3 (3): Talking about Peer Pressure and Sugar

      The focus here is on the advice given by nutrition educators to limit the amounts of sugar sweetened beverages that you drink. Follow the process noted above.
  4. Have participants rejoin the large group. Facilitate a discussion about the power of social and peer pressure for influencing what people eat and how they eat. Have participants take turns presenting some of the things they discussed with their families.

    Encourage conversation about what participants can do to support their peers and family members in moderating their food intake and choosing healthier foods and beverages when there is peer and social pressure to eat otherwise. Try to focus the discussion on ways to limit “negative” social/peer pressure (which counters sound nutritional advice) and enhance “positive” social/peer pressure (which supports behaviors in accordance with nutritional advice).

The moderator/facilitator can jumpstart this discussion in the following ways:

Ask workshop participants to identify specific foods at popular restaurants that children or the adults can choose which are lower in sugars or fat but which are still “cool” to eat.

Mention that if it isn’t “cool” to buy a small order of fries at a fast food place, do the “dare to share” game. Dare your peers to “share” the medium size. After you have finished eating it, if you are still both hungry, order another serving. However, if you find you are fairly full, don’t order anything else. Give yourselves a “high five”— you have been successful in moderating your food intake of a high fat food.

The facilitator might also note factors other then peer pressure that influence food choice and preference. For example, in some neighborhoods healthy foods may not be available or easily accessible.

Considerations

This activity could be modified by having family members first write out their answers to the various questions on mini-post-it notes and attach these notes to the handout. This would serve to allow participants to share their views without being influenced by other family members.