TV ads have bigger impact on kids’ food choices than parents

Washington: TV commercials have a stronger impact on children’s food choices than the advice of their parents, a new study has found.

Dr. Christopher Ferguson and colleagues at Texas A and M International University studied 75 children ranging in age from 3 to 5 years.

All of the children watched a series of two cartoons, with commercials shown between each cartoon. The children were divided into two groups; half of the children watched a commercial for French fries, and the other half watched a commercial for apple slices with dipping sauce.

After watching the cartoons and commercials, the children were allowed to choose a coupon for either advertised food with input from their parents, half of whom encouraged their child to choose the healthy option, and the other half remained neutral.

Of the children who viewed the commercial for French fries, 71 percent chose the coupon for French fries if their parents remained neutral.

However, the number only dropped to 55 percent when the children were encouraged by their parents to choose the healthier option.

“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,” Dr. Ferguson said.

Of the children who viewed the commercial for apple slices with dipping sauce, only 46 percent picked French fries when their parents remained neutral; this number dropped to 33 percent when their parents encouraged them to pick the healthier option.

“Children were clearly influenced by the commercials they saw; however, parents are not powerless,” Dr. Ferguson said.

Rather than focusing on banning advertisements to children, the authors suggest that politicians, advocates, and food producers should concentrate on ways to promote the advertisement of healthy food options.

The study has been published in The Journal of Pediatrics.