More Food for Thought

By , August 13, 2007 11:00 am

This is old news now (about one week old) but I MUST blog about it. A study by Dr. Thomas Robinson, the director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Packard Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics and of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine has found that children ages 3 to 5 tend to prefer the taste of food that comes in a McDonald’s wrapper over identical food which does not.

Dr. Robinson’s research team gave 63 children, ages 3 to 5, the following foods: chicken nuggets, a hamburger, french fries (all from McDonald’s) as well as baby carrots and milk (from the grocery store). Each child received two portions of each food. One portion was wrapped in a McDonald’s wrapper or bag, the other was in a plain wrapper. The children overwhelmingly preferred the food in the McDonald’s wrapper over the identical food in the plain wrapper.

Dr. Robinson says:

“Kids don’t just ask for food from McDonald’s, they actually believe that the chicken nugget they think is from McDonald’s tastes better than an identical, unbranded nugget.”

Other interesting (and frightening) findings of the study are the following facts about the children:

- One third of the children ate at McDonald’s more than once a week.

- More than three-quarters had McDonald’s toys at home

- They had an average of 2.4 televisions in their homes

- More than one-half the children had a TV in their rooms! (Wow! These kids are only 3 to 5 years-old!!!)

Discussing his findings, which seem to link TV-viewing with a preference for McDonald’s, Dr. Robinson said:

“We found that kids with more TVs in their homes and those who eat at McDonald’s more frequently were even more likely to prefer the food in the McDonald’s wrapper. This is a company that knows what they’re doing. Nobody else spends as much to advertise their fast-food products to children.”

This frightening placebo effect of food preference in children seems to me to be yet another argument in favor of placing some sort of limit on food marketing to kids. If you want to read a bit more about about recent efforts to put limits on food ads targeted to kids, please read my June 25th post Food Marketing to Kids.

So, in case anyone still had a doubt, kids as young as ages 3 to 5 can be successfully “branded” by large corporations spending billions on TV advertising targeted at young viewers.

OK. On a lighter note, I think I’d better stock up on McDonald’s wrappers for a proper presentation of my A-list brussels sprouts to my children. “Hey kids, did you know McDonald’s now serves brussels sprouts? Yum!!!!!”

The study:
Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children’s Taste Preferences appearing in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medecine, Vol. 161 No. 8, August 2007

(You can read an article about the study at the Washington Post online: Foods Taste Better With McDonald’s Logo, Kids Say.)

Thanks to morguefile.com and photographer spress for the “Good Food” photo.

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4 Responses to “More Food for Thought”

  1. Jenny says:

    McDonald’s is nearly as bad as the cigarette companies in the way they market to children. And it’s so sad to read that so many children eat McDonald’s more than once a week AND that so many young children have TVs in their rooms. I’m happy to say that my daughter has never had McDonald’s, and definitely no TV at 2 1/2! Let me know how the brussels sprouts in the McDonald’s wrapper goes! ;o)

    [Reply]

  2. Dr Mike says:

    The article you are referring to was published in the August 2007 edition of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The text of the original article is at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/161/8/792

    I actually include this story in episode 46 of PediaCast, which should be posted later tonight at pediacast.org.

    It would have been interesting to see the result of comparing McDonald’s wrappers to Elmo or Dora or Thomas decorated wrappers. Did the kids pick the McDonalds wrappers because they were branded as McDonalds? or because the wrappers were more interesting than plain wrappers.

    Don’t get me wrong–I’m not advocating McDonalds for kids. But this research does seem a bit flawed to me, and I discuss it on the show.

    Dr Mike
    pediacast.org

    [Reply]

  3. Mom Unplugged says:

    Hi Dr. Mike,

    Thanks very much for the link. I look forward to reading the actual study and I have posted the link for others to read too.

    You have an excellent point and I will be interested to listen to your podcast on the subject.

    You could be right that McDonald’s is not the “villain” per se here, but I do think it says a lot about 3-5 year-old’s media awareness that they might prefer a Dora wrapper to a plain one.

    The real truth would be told if they tested kids with plain wrappers vs. cute animal or character wrappers that were original and were NOT associated with a TV show. What would happen then? If the kids still preferred the decorated wrappers, then I might believe that the issue was simply one of interest as opposed to branding.

    Thanks so much for your comment.

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  4. claudie says:

    Comme vous parlez si bien le français je suis revenue sur votre blog pour en savoir un peu plus. Une expérience a été effectuée en France avec un adulte qui s’est dévoué pour manger au Mac Do matin, midi et soir! Au bout d’un mois ses analyses étaient tellement défectueuses que les médecins lui demandé d’arrêter l’expérience!!! Alors j’imagine ce que cela pourrait produire sur l’organisme d’un enfant!
    A bientôt!

    [Reply]

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