Signs of the dietary environment

School-aged children are surrounded by messages about food and nutrition, from shop signs to brand advertising. Linguists from Indonesia and Australia have developed a new way of studying how this affects them, using smartphones and clever analysis.

In a project financed by the Australia- Indonesia Centre and led by Dr Sisilia Halimi of Universitas Indonesia and Professor Lesley Harbon of the University of Technology Sydney, researchers used their phones to take pictures of the ‘linguistic landscape’ around schools and their surrounds, in fact anywhere written text was evident.

Then they showed these images to the children—pictures of wall signs, advertising, hawker stalls, textbooks, classroom posters, and even street rubbish—and asked them to comment on what they saw. That allowed them to start a discussion on what the children knew about food, diet and nutrition.

“The findings showed that in some cases there was a contradiction between what the school expected its students to eat and what was available in the canteen,” Sisilia says. Lesley says they now have evidence to show to educational authorities that students are noticing these messages.

“We have shown the methodology works. Besides education, our results should also be of interest to agricultural authorities, and advertising and food packaging companies both in Indonesia and Australia.”