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The Effectiveness of Music to Increase Knowledge of Nutrition Among Children

By Edited Dec 17, 2013 1 2


The number of overweight children in the United States has risen drastically over the last three decades (Centers for Disease Control [CDC], 2006). Obesity among children is of serious concern because it can lead to several health problems such as, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol (American Obesity Association [AOA], 2005).  Children have suffered psychological problems and stigma that has been associated with obesity (AOA, 2005).  It has been shown that overweight children are more likely to become obese adults (Whitaker, Wright, Pepe, Seidel, & Dietz, 1997).  Efforts to combat obesity among children have been initiated; however, obesity rates continue to soar.

Several health promotion programs are in effect in order to reduce the prevalence of overweight and obese children.  Each program has different targeting methods that appeal to children.  The incorporation of music into a nutrition awareness program may help children to understand and retain the education presented to them.  Music has shown a positive effect when used on patients that have undergone an invasive procedure (Thorgaard, Henriksen, Pedersbaek & Thomsen, 2004). Music has also been used in the classroom as an activity for children to regulate behavior (Stacy, Brittain and Kerr, 2002).  The application of music to a nutrition program may help children retain the information that is being presented. 


Most American children maintain a diet high in fat and do not eat enough fruits and vegetables.  According to the American Heart Association (AHA), there are four major kinds of dietary fat including saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fatty acids.  Saturated fats and trans fats raise blood cholesterol (americanheart.org).  Recommendations from the AHA include limiting foods high in saturated fat such as fatty meats and whole-milk products; eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products; and not exceeding 7 percent of saturated fat intake of total calories each day.  

The purpose of the study was intended to describe the role music may have on learning about nutrition.  The first aim is to develop a nutrition brochure targeted towards increasing nutrition knowledge in middle school children.  The second aim is to examine whether the addition of music and a brochure to a nutrition awareness lecture will assist in the retention of knowledge among children.  It is hypothesized that the children will increase their knowledge regarding nutrition and recognize the difference between the types of dietary fat after exposure to a music CD, lecture and given a brochure.

Health Factors

Many risk factors have been shown to be associated with childhood obesity such as parental fatness, social factors, birth weight, timing or rate of maturation, physical activity/inactivity, dietary factors and psychological factors (Muller, Asbeck, Mast, Langnase & Grund, 2001).   A significant factor that contributed to childhood obesity was low social economic status (SES) (O’Dea & Wilson, 2006).   According to Vieweg, Johnston, Lanier, Fernandez, & Pandurangi (2007), low SES influenced a variety of health related factors including, health insurance; neighborhood safety; local food stores and food prices; private and public transportation; and access to gyms or health clubs.  Diet has shown to be affected by low SES in several ways.  Low SES students were more likely to consume either non-nutritious fluids for breakfast or nothing at all (O’Dea & Wilson, 2006). 

Several adverse health effects were usually associated with childhood obesity.  Health problems such as asthma, type II diabetes, hypertension, orthopedic complications, sleep apnea, psychosocial effects and stigma are more likely to develop in overweight or obese children (American Obesity Association).  Childhood obesity has shown to be a precursor to obesity in adulthood.  Overweight children and adolescents were more likely to become obese as adults (CDC, 2006).  Approximately 80% of children, who were overweight at age 10-15 years, were obese adults at age 25 years (Whitaker, Wright, Pepe, Seidel, & Dietz, 1997).  According to Thorpe, List, Marx, May, Helgerson, & Frieden (2004), a 4 year-old child has a 20% chance of growing up to become an obese adult, compared to an obese teenager who has an 80% chance of obesity in adulthood. 

Effects of Music

Listening to music has been shown to be a popular past time among children and teenagers.  Typically, teenagers spend up to six hours a day listening to music from radio, recorded music or video (Steinberg, 1996).  By the time children reach eighth grade, their most popular musical activities change from playing music to passive listening (Buckton, 1998).  It was found that music was the most preferred free time activity among young people along with watching television and playing video games (Nippold, Duthie & Larsen, 2005).  Although music is a favorite past time for children and teenagers, no published studies were found where music was used as a medium to influence dietary behaviors. 

Several interventions have been created to try to combat and reduce the prevalence of overweight and obese children.  Different types of components are used in programs to encourage children into making behavior changes.  Music may be one approach to target and gain the attention of children.  According to Stacy, Brittain and Kerr (2002), music as an activity for children that can be used to regulate behavior and the words of songs are particularly important.  Although there is a long history of anecdotal evidence that links singing and health, there is little evidence-based research on this topic (Stacy et al, 2002).


While no research was found where music was used to influence knowledge regarding dietary fat, music has been shown to have several biological effects.  Researchers have shown that music improved learning and memory functions.  In a study done by Chikahisa et al., (2006), an experiment was done using laboratory mice comparing a control group to a group exposed to Mozart’s piano sonata.  A learning test was developed using a cross-maze apparatus.  There was a significant difference in the number of errors among the group that was exposed to music (Chikahisa et al., 2006). 

A literature search for studies investigating the role of music in learning and comprehension revealed that much more research needs to be conducted in this area.  Indeed, studies were found indicating an increased level of learning with the addition of auditory elements to educational materials; however, those studies were done in 1980 and 1968, respectively (Truman & Truman, 2006).  In 1980, a study was done by Watkins and Watkins where a series of experiments were conducted using college students who were exposed to a list of letters either visually, aurally or both.  Their findings indicated that their subjects could recall auditory sounds up to 20 seconds after they were exposed to the sound compared to 2 seconds, which was the dominant view at the time.  It was noted that their findings indicated an auditory advantage when presenting written material.  Other research articles indicated that instructors personally found that using music prior to or during instruction decreased apprehension and increased alertness which may have been the cause for better test scores (Tierney, 2007; White & McCormack, 2006).  According to White and McCormack (2006), music is a powerful tool that can be used in the classroom to raise awareness and increase knowledge on serious social issues.  What remains unclear is how well music can be used as a tool to influence knowledge regarding nutrition and if it can promote behavior change.

For more information on other topics see the following:

The 5 Top Paying Careers in Each of the US Major Occupational Groups
You Are What You Eat by Dr. Gillian McKeith
Homeboy Industries Promotes Jobs not Jails


Jun 7, 2011 9:28pm
Excellent article. It's not surprising that music can aid in all types of learning. Just look at how well it worked with Sesame Street and the Electric Company!
Jun 8, 2011 8:46pm
Fascinating - I'm all for it.
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