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How food advertising and parents’ influence affect children’s nutritional choices

Earlier this year, a group of pediatricians urged Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to ban fast food ads from children's television programming in an effort to curb childhood obesity rates in the United States. Debate over the negative impact of advertising on children's nutritional choices resurfaced today after a new study showing healthy messages from parents may only slightly temper the influence of food commercials.

In the study (.pdf), researchers at Texas A&M International University split 75 children ranging in age from 3 to 5 years into two groups. One group watched a series of two cartoons and a commercial for French fries, while the second group watched the same episodes and an advertisement for apple slices with dipping sauce. After watching the cartoons and commercials, the participants 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. USA Today reports:

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.

Rather than focus on banning commercials from programs aimed at children, researchers recommended politicians, advocates and food producers concentrate on ways to promote the advertisement of healthy food options.

Previously: Are Happy Meals illegal? A public health lawyer says, yes and Can rebranding make kids choose veggies over junk food?
Photo by Jerine Lay

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