To many, egging on a rebellious teen would only cause trouble, but a new study is showing that their natural tendency for rebellion can be used positively. The study “Harnessing Adolescent Values to Motivate Healthier Eating”, by Christopher J. Bryan of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and David Yeager of the University of Texas, reveals that teens ate more healthy when it was framed to be an injustice of some sort.

The work was inspired in part by an anti-smoking campaign from the early 2000s called the Truth campaign. As you can see in their iconic TV ad from back then, this was the first time smoking was compellingly portrayed as the rebellious choice—instead of the healthy (and obedient) choice. “It is widely credited with reducing the appeal of smoking to teens,” Bryan said.  “A second major source of inspiration was the book ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat’ by Michael Moss, which documents and explains many of the ways the food industry has been guilty of the sort of self-serving manipulative marketing Big Tobacco has been guilty of for decades.”

With a bit of a starting point, the researchers were able to determine they could use this idea with healthy eating. The study shows that when motivated in this fashion, teens showeda seven percent increase in choosing water over sugary drinks and an 11 percent increase in selecting a healthy snack instead of an unhealthy choice.

“The adolescent mind strives off of being independent and taking control of one’s actions under the assumption of doing the right thing,” said Rogelio Ramirez, 18, a third-year Civil Engineering student at the University of California, Davis. “Overall, giving adolescents the power to choose between options that are negative yet have underlying positive effects can ultimately change the outcome of any case given.”

This study appears to be a positive step in working towards better habits in terms of health related behavior. The study gives light to a new approach that could have long term effects and it has opened the gates for more research to uncover.

“We’re working now understanding the ways in which an intervention like this can possibly have a long-term effect on teens’ food and drink choices,” Bryan said. “For example, if we’re able to change the way teens think about the ubiquitous food ads they’re exposed to, might that turn those food ads from tempting enticements to eat junk food into reminders of the food industry’s manipulative tactics and thus boosters of our message? If so, this might be a way in which our intervention could have a lasting impact on diets and a meaningful impact on long-term health.”