Market Food to Your Kids (and turn off the TV)

Does TV food advertising affect kid’s food choices? A new study (in the American Journal of Pediatrics) suggests that it does, and that what kids see on TV matters more than parents’ opinions.

The study (led by Dr. Christopher Ferguson at Texas A&M University) showed preschoolers a series of two cartoons, with commercials shown between each cartoon. Half of the children saw an ad for French fries, and the other saw an ad for apple slices with dipping sauce. Afterwards, children were allowed to choose a coupon for either French fries or apples, with advice from their parents (half were told to encourage their child to choose the apples, and the other half were told to remain neutral). Three out of four children who saw the French fries ad chose the coupon for fries; this dropped to one in two children when parents encouraged them to choose apples. Less than half of kids who saw the ad for apple slices picked French fries (if their parents were neutral); this dropped to only one in three kids when parents encouraged them to pick the healthier option.

What does this mean? First, kids are influenced by commercials (why else would food companies pay big bucks for them?). Second, parents have less influence than you might expect.

What to do? Turning off the TV is one option. But the authors also suggest advertising healthy food options on TV. That’s what they do in France. And the French go even further: snack food ads during prime time kid-watching hours carry health advisory warnings (like cigarette packages).

Could we do that here? Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the great ways that schools are marketing healthy food to kids, with great results.