Attitudes are important precursors of behaviours. This study aims to compare the food attitudes (i.e., hedonic- and nutrition-based) of children using both an implicit pairing task and an explicit forced-choice categorization task suitable for the cognitive abilities of 5- to 11-year-olds. A dominance of hedonically driven attitudes was expected for all ages in the pairing task, designed to elicit affective and spontaneous answers, whereas a progressive emergence of nutrition-based attitudes was expected in the categorization task, designed to involve deliberate analyses of the costs/benefits of foods. An additional exploratory goal was to evaluate differences in the attitudes of normal and overweight children in both tasks.
Children from 3 school levels (n = 194; mean age = 8.03 years) were individually tested on computers in their schools. They performed a pairing task in which the tendencies to associate foods with nutritional vs. culinary contexts were assessed. Next, they were asked to categorize each food into one of the following four categories: “yummy”, “yucky” (i.e., hedonic categories), “makes you strong”, or“makes you fat” (i.e., nutritional categories).
The hedonic/culinary pairs were very frequently selected (81% on average), and this frequency significantly increased through school levels. In contrast, in the categorization task, a significant increase in nutrition-driven categorizations with school level was observed. Additional analyses revealed no differences in the food attitudes between the normal and overweight children in the pairing task, and a tendency towards lower hedonic categorizations among the overweight children.
Culinary associations can reflect cultural learning in the French context where food pleasure is dominant. In contrast, the progressive emergence of cognitively driven attitudes with age may reflect the cognitive development of children who are more reasonable and influenced by social norms.