Saturday, August 25, 2007

Can TV ads influence our kids' taste buds?

This is not exactly a bariatric surgery topic, but, nevertheless, a very interesting one. Does advertising/branding affect children's taste? Well, we know that TV ads do influence kids, who, as a consequence, keep begging and nagging for an advertised product. The pressuring will intensify, once other parents provided your kids friends with the product. What standing do you have when you stick to the hated "No", while the attractive TV ads say "yes", and peers' parents have given the sign of approval?

A very interesting study came from Stanford Prevention Research Center and Stanford University School of Medicine. It was published in the August, 2007, issue of the "Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine." (1) Kids aged 3-5 years (yes, that young!) were entered into a food tasting game, where they were given 2 identical food items, one wrapped in a McDonald's typical wrapping, and the other wrapped in a plane white wrapping. Items included not only hamburgers, fries and chicken McNugget's, but also baby carrots, which are not even sold at McDonald's, but were placed on top of a McDonald's french fries bag and on top of a matched plain white bag. McDonald's was chosen because it is a good example of a well-branded and heavily marketed source. Guess what? There was a statistically significant higher taste preference for the foods associated with the branded wrappings. This study is remarkable for its hypothesis, and the results that came out of it.

The authors concluded that branding of foods and beverages influences young children's taste perceptions. The authors also suggested that branding may be a useful strategy for improving young children's eating behaviors.

No wonder, a report of a joint "WHO/FAO Expert Consultation" indicated that: "Heavy marketing of fast-food outlets and energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods and beverages" is a "probable" cause of excess weight gain and obesity. There has been strong evidence of a relationships between television viewing and obesity in children. Could that be, at least partially, due to the food advertising to which they are exposed? You bet.

(1) Robinson TN, Borzekowski DL, Matheson DM, Kraemer HC. Effects of fast food branding on young children's taste preferences. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Aug;161(8):792-7. PMID: 17679662