It is the rare kid who does not want to get a McDonald’s Happy Meal so they can receive the toy inside — and fast food venues are well-aware of this. A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that children who watch TV that airs commercials for fast food meals that include toys are likely to convince the whole family to choose fast food restaurants more often.
Samantha Olson of Medical Daily says scientists from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth studied all fast food ads on TV that aired in 2009. They found only two well-known chains ran commercials on children’s television channels.
Their next step was to interview a parent of each of the 100 children enrolled in the study, who were ages 3 to 7.
The researchers asked the parents how often their children watched each of the four children’s network and if their children asked to go to two of the fast food chains advertised on the networks assigned. They also asked the parents if they took their children to the chains. If they did, they were asked if their children collected toys from one of the fast food chains or the other, or from both.
The researchers discovered that the chains’ commercials were working. Eighty-three percent of the children asked to go to one or both of the chains. And 29% of the children collected the meal toys. Also, 37% of parents said they visited one of the two fast food restaurants in the commercials more often than other restaurants.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) reports that children are often not able to differentiate between right and wrong, and the information they are learning from TV may be wrong. Every year children also see thousands of commercials which include alcohol, junk food, fast foods, and toys. These impressions can influence children from a young age.
From infancy to the teen years, according to American Academy of Pediatrics, children are watching too many hours of television daily. Kids who consistently watch more than four hours of TV a day are more likely to be overweight, and the new research shows that the fast food industry could be responsible.
“Seventy-nine percent of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children’s networks,” said the study’s co-author Jennifer A. Emond, a research instructor from Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, in a press release. “For now, our best advice to parents is to switch their child to commercial-free TV programming to help avoid pestering for foods seen in commercials.”
The New York Times’ KJ Dell’ Antonia says during 2009-2010, 79% of all advertising aimed at preschoolers and young children aired on Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Cartoon Network, and Disney — and 99% of the ads were for McDonald’s and Burger King.
Fast food restaurants did agree not to market to young children after the Council of Better Business Bureaus began the voluntary Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) in 2006. The council asked food manufacturers to pledge not to advertise to children under the age of 6 and to promote only healthful products.
There were specific factors associated with more visits to fast food chains that included: having more TVs in the home, placing TVs in the child’s bedroom, watching TV during the day, and watching networks that included the most kid-targeted commercials, reports Robert Preidt, writing for US News and World Report.