From Medill Reports by Jan LazutaChicago- Oct.6th,, 2011
Advertising may play a role in influencing the foods that kids choose to eat, but researchers at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, reported Thursday that parents, too, can affect what their children decide to eat.
“The take-home message we found was: No. Parents are not helpless when it comes to what their kids say they want to eat,” said Christopher Ferguson, lead researcher of the study and a professor of behavioral sciences at Texas A&M.
Commercials, he said, do largely sway kids to want to eat less-than-healthy food, but parents can’t put the blame for poor food choices and rising obesity rates solely onto the media.
Researchers reported their findings in the current Journal of Pediatrics.
Ferguson said he and his team originally conceived the study following recent hype in the press over the impact of advertising unhealthy food to children.
“We wanted to test to see if there was anything behind this idea that kids are influenced by marketing,” he said. “And we also wanted to see if there was any way to reverse the effects of the advertising. We wanted to answer the question of whether or not parents can undo bad media influence.”
The study, involving 75 children from Laredo, Texas, between the ages of 3 and 8 years old, looked at a child’s preference for a healthy snack versus an unhealthy one, following exposure to advertisements for the food and parental input.
Ferguson said the participants watched a 20-minute cartoon, during which a one-minute commercial appeared, advertising either apple slices or French fries.
At the end of the show, parents, who were randomly assigned a script to read to their child, either recommended the healthier apple snack to their child or said the decision to pick a snack was entirely up to the child.
The children were then asked which food they would like to eat.
“What we found,” Ferguson said, “was that while the effects of the ads were quite strong in the sense that children tended to choose whichever food it was they saw in the commercial, we also saw that if a parent recommended eating the healthier snack to a child who had seen the commercial for the unhealthy one, many of the children decided to choose the apples instead of the fries.”