There is no doubt about it: television may be very harmful to a child’s diet, despite parents’ good intentions and efforts.
Scientists from Stanford University have proved that the influence of advertising on children’s dietary preferences is much stronger than previously thought. They analyzed the food preferences of a group of 63 California children between ages three and five.
Children in this study group were offered five different types of foods: hamburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries (all of them from McDonald’s) and milk, and carrots. Scientists divided each of the foods into two identical portions and then placed one of them in a McDonald’s wrapper and the other in a wrapper with no brand.
Both options of each food were offered to the children, and then the researchers asked them which one they liked most. In the majority of cases, young children preferred the foods that they believed came from the fast food chain. This result shows that even young kids show a brand-related preference.
“Kids even thought the chicken nuggets that came from McDonald’s tasted much better than the ones without the logo,” explained Dr. Thomas Robinson, who was responsible for the study and is a Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at this university.
Robinson explained that his research team decided to use the McDonald’s brand in the study because it is “the gold standard in children's advertising.” The professor mentioned that, in the US alone, this fast food chain spends over 1 billion dollars annually on advertising.
The research team did not add any other marketing element to the packages, such as the popular Happy Meal boxes or the picture of Ronald McDonald. “We only wanted to study the impact of the brand itself, although I’m sure if we would’ve added such features children would’ve liked the food even more.”
The final conclusion was that, despite the efforts of parents and pediatricians to promote healthy eating habits among children, the persuasive effect of advertising on children is very strong.
Ronbinson’s study, which was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, stated that children with more television sets at home (and who are therefore exposed to more advertising) were the ones who showed a stronger preference for the foods that had the McDonald’s logo. The same effect was observed in the children whose parents took them to eat at such restaurants more often.
In the United States, 13% of the infant and teen population is obese. It is estimated that children between 2 and 11 years of age watch around 5,500 food advertisements per year, and most of them advertise unhealthy products.
Under the high pressure of overweight and obesity statistics, ten fast food chains, including McDonald’s, have now incorporated low-calorie options in their menus and have launched large campaigns to show that their dietary standards abide by the guidelines of the United Status Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
© 2017 HolaDoctor