The more frequently children watch TV channels that show ads for kids’ fast food meals, the more often their families eat at those fast food restaurants, according to a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Fast food companies advertise children’s meals featuring new toys on TV, and it has been suggested that seeing these toys may prompt children to request eating at fast food restaurants.
For the study, researchers referred to a database compiled of all fast food TV ads that aired nationally in 2009. They found that only two nationally-recognized fast food chains were engaging in child-directed TV advertising at that time.
“Seventy-nine percent of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children’s networks,” said lead researcher Jennifer A. Emond, Ph.D., at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.
The researchers enrolled 100 children (three to seven years of age) and one of their parents in the study. The parents filled out a survey that included questions about how often their children watched each of the four children’s networks, if their children requested visits to the two restaurants, if their children collected toys from those restaurants, and how often the family visited those restaurants.
The findings showed that 37 percent of parents reported more frequent visits to the two fast food restaurants with child-directed TV ads. In addition, 54 percent of the children requested visits to at least one of the restaurants. Of the 29 percent of children who collected toys from the restaurants, almost 83 percent requested to visit one or both of the restaurants.
Certain factors were linked to more frequent restaurant visits, including the following: having more TVs in the home, a TV in the child’s bedroom, more time spent watching TV during the day, and more time spent watching one of the four children’s networks airing the majority of child-directed ads.
Although the study enrolled a small number of families, the findings show that the more frequently a child views child-directed fast food TV ads, often involving a toy, the more likely the family visited the fast food restaurant that was featured in the commercial. The findings also show that children’s food preferences may be partially shaped by a desire for the featured toys.
“For now,” notes Emond, “our best advice to parents is to switch their child to commercial-free TV programming to help avoid pestering for foods seen in commercials.”