Young Children's Taste Preferences May Be Influenced by Fast-Food Branding

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How powerful is marketing directed toward kids?


Preschool children preferred the taste of foods and drinks in McDonald’s packaging over the same foods and drinks in unbranded packaging, according to a report in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“Food marketing to children is widespread,” according to background information in the article. “The food and beverage industries spend more than $10 billion per year to market to children in the United States.” By age 2, children may already have beliefs about certain brands, and 2- to 6-year-olds can recognize brands and associate them with products.

In a study by Thomas N. Robinson, MD, MPH, and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine, preschoolers ages 3 to 5 tasted five pairs of identical foods and beverages in basic McDonald’s packaging, as well as in matched but unbranded packaging. The foods and beverages were: one-quarter of a McDonald’s hamburger, a Chicken McNugget, McDonald’s french fries, about 3 ounces of 1%-fat milk (or apple juice for one child who was not allowed to drink milk) and two baby carrots. Parents completed a questionnaire including their child’s race/ethnicity, age, exposure to McDonald’s food and toys, and TV viewing habits.

Sixty-three children completed the study and performed 304 individual tasting comparisons. On average, children preferred the tastes of foods and drinks in the McDonald’s packaging over the same foods in unmarked packaging (48.3% vs. 36.7% for hamburgers, 59% vs. 18% for chicken nuggets, 76.7% vs. 13.3% for french fries, 61.3% vs. 21% for milk or apple juice, and 54.1% vs. 23% for carrots). A secondary analysis found that children preferred the tastes of foods and drinks that were thought to be from McDonald’s for four out of five comparisons. Preschoolers with more TV sets in their homes, as well as children who ate McDonald’s food more often, were more likely to prefer foods and drinks they thought were from McDonald’s.

“These results add evidence to support recommendations to regulate or ban advertising or marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, or all marketing, that is directed to young children,” the authors write. “Our findings also suggest a need for research on marketing in general, and branding in particular, as strategies to promote more healthful taste preferences and food and beverage choices in young children.

 “Future research might examine the effects of less recognizable brands or contrast different brands and packaging with variable levels of recognition and natural exposure,” they conclude.

Editor’s Note: Because you’re dedicated to organic living, recommends dining on organic food to maximize flavor and minimize your risk of exposure to pesticides, chemicals and preservatives.

Book Pick:Generation XL: Raising Healthy, Intelligent Kids in a High-Tech, Junk-Food World

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Photo courtesy of the California Milk Processor Board

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