Concern has been raised by The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association regarding the negative influence advertising has on children’s food choices. Several health care professionals and parents are worried about how direct advertising affects children. A new investigation that examines the connection between parental influence, fast food advertisements, and children’s food choices, is due to be published soon in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Dr. Christopher Ferguson and his team at Texas A&M International University investigated 75 children between the ages of 3 to 5. The children were spilt into two groups, one group watched two cartoons with a commercial of French fries in between, and the other group watched two cartoons with a commercial of apple slices with dipping sauce. After the children had watched the cartoons and commercials, they were allowed to select a coupon for either of the foods advertised with their parents input. Half of the parents remained neutral, while the other half encouraged their child to choose a healthy option.

71% of children who watched the French fries commercial chose the French fries coupon, if their parents stayed neutral. This number reduced to 55% when parents encouraged their child to select the healthier option. 46% of children who watched the commercial for apple slices and dipping sauce, chose the french fries coupon when their parents remained neutral, this number was reduced to 33% when parents encouraged their child to choose the healthier choice.

Dr. Ferguson said:

“Parental encouragement to eat healthy was somewhat able to help undo the message of commercials, although the effects of parents were smaller than we had anticipated. Children were clearly influenced by the commercials they saw; however parents are not powerless. . . . parents have an advantage if they are consistent with their long-term messages about healthy eating.”

Instead of concentrating on banning advertisements to children, the researchers recommend that food producers, politicians, and advocates should focus on ways to promote advertising healthy foods.

Dr. Ferguson concludes:

“Advertisement effects can work both for and
against healthy eating.”

Written by Grace Rattue