Fast Food advertisements hold sway over children, according to new report
It’s a testament to the battle of wills that parents have known about for generations. Which word of advice wields more power: the parents or the advertisement?
In a new study published this month in The Journal of Pediatric Science points out that the balance of power tends to lean towards advertising. Even in instances where parents tried to urge their children to choose healthy options, children insisted on the unhealthy choice.
In the experiment, children were divided into two groups. One group watched an advertisement for apple slices and a dipping sauce, while the other group watched an advertisement for French fries. At the end of each segment, parents from each group were either directed to urge a healthy choice or remain neutral. The children, aged between 3 and 8 years old, then chose a coupon that would allow them to get the food of their choice.
The report, put together by Dr. Christopher Ferguson, of Texas A&M International University’s Department of Behavioral Science, found that children were strongly influenced by the advertisements, at least in the short term. In fact, after watching advertisements for French fries, the children chose French fries 71% of the time, as long as their parents remained neutral.
So what happened when the parents tried to coax their children to eat healthier? For 55% of the children, they still chose French fries.
The report is cautious, though, in stating that the influence gained through advertisement is not a sign of a lost battle. Dr. Ferguson stated in his report that “there is the possibility that parental inﬂuences in real life are far more numerous and consistent than were present in our laboratory setting.” In other words, parents may lose the battle in the short term, but can counter that influence loss by repetition throughout childhood and, in the end, win the war.
Sound parenting advice, then, would suggest that parents can make up the difference by being involved with their children in making healthy eating choices. Furthermore, Dr. Ferguson optimistically pointed out that the advertising influence could be used just as effectively in spurring healthy eating choices, as long as company profits were not hurt by it.
For parents, then, it becomes a choice that really isn’t a choice. Should parents intervene early, and often, in making food choice decisions, or should corporations, focused on profit-making and the “bottom line,” make the decisions for them?