TV ads boost fast food cravings among children, a study published on October 30 in the Journal of Pediatrics has shown.
Researchers at Darmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in New Hampshire analyzed data referring to 100 children, aged 3 to 7, as well interviews conducted with one of each respondent’s parents.
The adults were surveyed regarding how frequently their kids watched four children’s television networks, and if eventually their offspring had asked to go to fast food establishments, which had broadcast commercials on those channels.
They were also asked if their children enjoyed collecting toys from those restaurant chains, and how often the family would dine in such places.
Experts determined that for 2 fast food chains (McDonald’s and Burger King), around four fifths of the total number of commercials targeting children were aired on ad-supported TV channels dedicated to kids, such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
As a result, after being exposed to such promotional messages on a recurring basis, approximately 54% of the kids had asked to visit one of the restaurants which had been advertised.
The percentage was even higher among those who collected free toys from the fast food chain’s product lines.
It was discovered that around 29% of the kids had a toy collection after frequenting such restaurants, and the giveaways were one of the main sources of interest and attraction for these young consumers.
Also, 83% of these children had demanded to visit the quick service store one more time, in order to add new items to their heap of toys. Also, in around 37% of the cases families actually had to dine there frequently, to satisfy the children’s wishes.
Researchers also noticed that the likelihood of making repeat visits to fast food restaurants was amplified when there were several television sets at home or when the child’s bedroom was equipped with a TV.
In addition, such behavior was more frequent when kids watched TV for extended periods of time during the day, or when they watched children’s television networks that ran fast food ads.
Given these findings, researchers believe that the only way to counter the negative effects of commercials on kids’ food cravings and eating habits is to keep them away from such powerful triggers.
“For now, our best advice to parents is to switch their child to commercial-free TV programming, to help avoid pestering for foods seen in commercials”, explained study lead author Jennifer Emond.
While these recommendations seem reasonable and well thought out, it must be noted that advertising data which was analyzed for this research was aggregated starting from 2009, when fast food chains displayed more lassitude when it came to the negative impact of such ads on the children’s psyche and nutrition patterns.
As a report published in 2013 has shown, both Burger King and McDonald’s have reduced the amount of advertising targeting kids.
Also, in New Zealand Burger King has announced it would no longer include toys as part of the meal options for kids, and will discontinue TV commercials directed at children. Like company officials have said, this is part of the restaurant chain’s mission to help its customers make more health-conscious food choices.
The young audience is particularly susceptible to fast food advertising, especially when coupled with colorful toys. Familiarity with such brands starting from an early age may explain why childhood obesity has become so rampant in recent decades.
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