Fast food TV ads linked to children eating more junk food: study

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Nov 02, 2015 06:58 AM EST

A new study advises parents to switch their kids' TV viewing habits to commercial-free shows to avoid fast food advertisements that may contribute to children's unhealthy habits.

The findings of the study, soon to be published in the Journal of Pediatrics, reveal that TV commercials from fast food companies that promote children's meals and feature toy premiums to pique the interest of the children may lead to the family frequenting those kind of restaurants.

The study suggests that these incentives that usually come in the form of kids' toys, which the children may found to be really enticing may cause the children to ask their parents to take them to fast food restaurants to dine more often. According to the data, there were only two widely recognized fast food chains in the country that were into child-centered TV ads back in 2009 when the database for the study was compiled.

These commercial ads from the two fast food giants, namely McDonalds and Burger King, made it a point to target and reach out to as many children as possible. "Seventy nine percent of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children's networks," said Jennifer A. Emond, PhD, from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, who together with some colleagues worked on the study.

The study involved 100 children between the ages 3 to 7 years old and one of their parents. The parents were asked to answer a survey with questions regarding the frequency of the children watching the four networks, such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network; the kids' request to take them to the said retaurants; how often the family went to eat out; and if the children collected these fast food toys.

These commercials, which involve such toys, are so successful in the marketing campaign that the more children were able to see these ads, the more they will be requesting to go to the fast food place, the study also emphasized. "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," Dr. Emond also noted.

According to an article from Time, a report back in 2013 showed that the two fast food chains have since clamp down on their respective youth-oriented marketing ads, but there are still such practices today that raise concern for some sensible individuals and organizations with regard to this issue.

Take for instance, the case where a regulatory body, the Children's Advertising Review Unit, has called down McDonald's earlier this year because of their Happy Meal commercial in which a "Teenie Beanie Baby Boo" toy was featured for the majority of the ads' air time. The fast food company complied and has stopped airing the said TV advertisement.

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