Junk Food Commercials Influence Young Kids, Parents Can Mitigate the Effect

image from babble.com

The Journal of Pediatrics published the results of an interesting study. Researchers wanted to see how young children are affected by commercials for junk food vs parental guidance. The “experiment” was conducted on 75 children aged 3 to 5:

They watched two cartoons, with a commercial between each cartoon. Half the children saw a commercial for apple slices with dipping sauce and half saw a commercial for French fries.

After watching the cartoons and commercials, the children were allowed to select a coupon for one of the advertised food items, with input from their parents. Half of the parents were told to encourage their child to select the healthy food, while the other half were told to remain neutral.

Among the children who saw the commercial for French fries, 71 percent chose the coupon for French fries if their parents remained neutral, while only 55 percent opted for the French fries coupon if their parents encouraged them to choose the healthy food.

Of the children who saw the commercial for apple slices, 46 percent chose the coupon for French fries if their parents remained neutral, while only 33 percent picked the coupon for French fries if their parents encouraged them to make the healthy choice. more from healthfinder.gov…

What can we learn from this?

That TV commercials work! As if we didn’t now that. Why would the marketing teams at food companies pour billions of dollars into advertising if that wasn’t the case.

And why would lobbying firms earn millions for a recent push to soften federal guidelines regarding marketing to children?

So yes, as parents we can educate our kids and play positive role models. But dang it, the junk food companies sure are making tough.

What do you think?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kenleebow Ken Leebow

    And, it just got tougher. Most, maybe all of them, have established a home on Facebook. And, they have huge and active fan bases … For example, Reese’s asked a simple question to its fans. In just four hours, a huge number responded. Take a look … http://bit.ly/ouugGE

  • Pingback: More on Big Food’s Marketing of Junk to Kids (Links! Studies! Videos!)

  • Amanda, whose parents said NO

    Funny, when I was a child every advertisement between cartoons was Fruit by the Foot, Kool Aid, Gushers, McDonalds, etc. And you know what? My parents didn’t buy that stuff or allow me to have it often.
    Let’s get real: Kids have been targeted in marketing forever, but somewhere along the line parents stopped being parents and now have to buy their way to their child’s affection. Sure I wanted Gushers for breakfast every Saturday when I saw the commercial. I can remember maybe ONCE that my mom actually bought them. She used that magical word… NO.
    You can legislate companies out of advertising all you want, but until parents “grow some” and start actually making healthy choices for their kids (and themselves!) it’s going to be the same old same old. Parents exist for a reason, and that is to keep kids from killing themselves with their own decisions. Stop letting your kids play in the street just because they “want to” and tell them no once in a while. Same goes for fast food and fun fruits.
    [My horrible and cruel parents also forced me to eat veggies I didn't like at dinner or I had to eat them for breakfast the next morning... and I grew up not traumatized but a bit of a foodie who now LOVES veggies of various types. Tough life, I know.]

    • Gerome

      Amanda, may I guess that your parents were reasonably well educated, financially stable, did not work two jobs to keep food on the table and owned a car that gave them ready access to  a good grocery? With those benefits, it becomes easier for parents to, as you say, “grow some”. In the real world overweight and obesity are more prevalent in disadvantage and underserved communities. Parents and caregivers have less access to education for themselves, less free time between jobs, and often, a whole host of challenges that more economically-advantaged persons face.

      Every single food you mentioned has it’s price to the consumer subsidized by the federal government, making it even harder to say no to cheap calories. Parents need to do their share, of course, but it would be very helpful if the government could also even the playing field so the unhealthy foods are not also the least expensive and easiest to acquire foods.

      • Amanda

        Funny that you would make my socioeconomic status relevant to this discussion.
        Neither of my parents have college degrees, they had children young, I do not remember “suffering” but knew even as a child that we were “poor”, we lived off of our own backyard garden plot in a small rural town, and sometimes even had to get food from the local food pantry. My dad was officially unemployed for a while in my middleschool years before he took matters into his own hands and started a business… that took 10 years to “take off.” So you can’t pigeon-hole me into that lovely stereotype.

        Your point is not lost on me, but I would argue that we like to look at matters like advertising as REMOVING CHOICE from people, when in reality that is not the case. You always have choice. My parents chose to say no, even when the most readily available food sources were boxed mac & cheese and canned ravioli. I’m not saying we didn’t eat hot dogs occasionally, just that it was understood we would eat our broccoli/carrots/beans too.

        And although I’m sure many will chalk it up to “luck” the one thing my parents had that I see many people do not is work ethic. We worked for our food (physically and mentally in our small garden) and we ate what we could afford. Homegrown food is outrageously cheap, and yet instead we’d rather the government “cracked down” on ads to kids whose parents can’t say no? And instead of giving them a hand UP by encouraging work ethic and garden planting and all of that business, we’d rather give them hand outs. It doesn’t help anyone, and we are creating a circular problem in my estimation. We don’t have a food problem or an advertising problem so much as we have a parenting problem that is about 4 generations too far gone.

        • Gerome

          So then the proper stereotype is that people with a good work ethic are less likely to be obese? Yes, if people were not so darned lazy, they would make better food choices. If they also chose not to live in the city so they could take a bus to their job, they might also have that backyard garden. But, some people must live in the city and rely on public transport.

          You have made some interesting observations, and this discussion reveals the complexity of the interconnected factors that make it hard to battle obesity.

  • Anonymous

    So TV commercials work, that is not new. This study does not prove kids motivated by TV commercials are capable of forcing their parents to drive to the store and buy the junks food.

    The commercials just change the type of junk food kids eat. A parent doesn’t ask do you want a salmon with greens or a buger tonight. They ask do you want McDonalds or Burger King. They have already decided to eat crap. The kids can then influence what crap is eaten.

    If anything, lets stop advertising to adults. They are the ones with the wallet.

  • http://www.thefrugaldietitian.com Nancy – The Frugal Dietitian

    Interesting review here:
    FITS study (looks at over 3200 babies and toddlers dietary habits)- new data from the Obesity Society annual meeting October 2011.

    * 1/3 of calories were coming from snacks which were usually candy, crackers and cookies!!! REPLACE: Whole grains, low-fat yogurt, fresh fruits, fresh or cooked vegetables.

    * 10.4% of Children between 2-4 years old are obese.

    * 19.6% of children between 6-11 years old are obese.

    * Decrease in fruit and vegetable intake from age 12 month – 24 months. Increase in saturated fats and sweets!

    * By age 4 – over 15% of total calories comes from sweets (not counting fruits or milk sugar)

    It is up to the Parents to change this trend, not blaming 
    government, schools, food manufacturers and fast food restaurants!!
    (Even though it would be nice if they made it easier on parents ) Most obese children will become obese adults!!

  • Lillielinville

    Another good reason to limit TV for kids.