Monday, October 10, 2011

Advertising and Parental Influence on Kids' Food Choices

When it comes to getting our kids to eat healthier, key components include the setting of the young palate, parents' food purchasing decisions and television viewing time.

Commercials specifically geared toward children can have an outsized effect on what kids consume and, according to a recent study, can mitigate parental influence in food selection decisions.

"Advertising Influences on Young Children’s Food Choices and Parental Influence" was just published in The Journal of Pediatrics; here's a summary from its press release:
"Dr. Christopher Ferguson and colleagues at Texas A&M International University studied 75 children ranging in age from 3 to 5 years. All of the children watched a series of two cartoons, with commercials shown between each cartoon. The children were divided into two groups; half of the children watched a commercial for [McDonald's] French fries, and the other half watched a commercial for [McDonald's] apple slices with dipping sauce. After watching the cartoons and commercials, the children were allowed to choose a coupon for either advertised food with input from their parents, half of whom encouraged their child to choose the healthy option, and the other half remained neutral.

"Of the children who viewed the commercial for French fries, 71% chose the coupon for French fries if their parents remained neutral. However, the number only dropped to 55% when the children were encouraged by their parents to choose the healthier option. 'Parental encouragement to eat healthy was somewhat able to help undo the message of commercials, although the effects of parents were smaller than we had anticipated,' Dr. Ferguson explains. Of the children who viewed the commercial for apple slices with dipping sauce, only 46% picked French fries when their parents remained neutral; this number dropped to 33% when their parents encouraged them to pick the healthier option."
I read the study and was blown away by several facts. First, "[t]here were no children in this sample who watched zero hours of daily television, with television viewing averaging 3.28 hours per day."

Over three hours of TV a day? How many commercials for junk food does that equal and is there a correlation to why our kids won't listen to us?

Second, it's not all about the food:

"Children’s primary motives for attending fast food restaurants varied considerably, although only 32% were attracted primarily by the food, with the greatest percentage (36%) attracted by playground facilities, and 25.3% attracted by toys packaged with food items. A small number of parents (6.7%) did not report on the primary appeal of fast food restaurants."
Click here to read the press release/summary.
Click here to read the study, as published in The Journal of Pediatrics.


Tired Mom of Six said...

As a mom of 6 children, the toys have always been the driving force behind my childrens' desire to eat at a fast food chain. Fortunately for them, I know it is cheaper and healthier to eat at home. It just takes some prep time.

I also agree that a parent has a huge influence on what their children perceive as healthy. I have one adult child and one on the cusp of adulthood and I still see my influence about making healthy food choices in their daily life.

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