Effects of Fast Food

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CHRISTOPHER GASTON

RESEARCH PAPER

“ EFFECTS OF FAST FOOD IN CHILDRENS DIET”

Summary

Background: Fast food has become a prominent feature of the diet of children in the United States and increasingly, throughout the world. However, few studies have examined the effects of fast food consumption on any nutrition or health-related outcome.

Objective:  To examine the effects of cumulative, real-world marketing and brand exposures on young children by testing the influence of branding from a heavily marketed source on taste preferences.

Methods: Participants were 3- to 5-year-old children and their parents recruited from 3 centers in Houston Texas Cullen Elementary a federally sponsored preschool program for low-income families. The study was introduced at parent meetings, and informed consent and a 2-page parent questionnaire in English and Spanish were sent home to parents. Parents noted if their child should not be allowed to eat each food and drink to be tested.

Results: Parents of 95 children correctly completed and returned consent forms and questionnaires of which 63 children (66%) completed the food tasting experiment and comprised the analysis sample; 7 declined to participate when asked; 8 were absent, had moved, or were not available during the days and/or times of the experiment; and 17 were unable to understand or refused to complete the protocol.

Conclusion: Branding of foods and beverages influences young children's taste perceptions. The findings are consistent with recommendations to regulate marketing to young children and also suggest that branding may be a useful strategy for improving young children's eating behaviors.

The global childhood obesity epidemic is focusing attention on the effects of food and beverage marketing. A recent report published by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluded that marketing of energy-dense foods and fast food outlets is a "probable" cause of increasing overweight and obesity among the world's children. Food marketing to children is widespread. The food and beverage industries spend more than $10 billion per year to market to children in the United States. One of the goals of marketing is branding to encourage children to recognize and differentiate particular products and logos. By 2 years of age, children may have beliefs about specific brands, and 2- to 6-year-olds can recognize familiar brand names, packaging, logos, and characters and associate them with products, especially if the brands use salient features such as bright colors, pictures, and cartoon characters. By middle childhood, most children can name multiple brands of child-oriented products. Even among very young children, awareness and recognition translate into product requests, begging and nagging for specific product names and brands. In a prior study, one demonstrated that even a single exposure to a television advertisement affected preschool children's brand preferences. To follow that experiment and extend the existing research, it is desirable to examine the effects of the broader, cumulative, real-world marketing and brand exposures that young children experience but that we are unable to measure directly. In the current experiment, therefore, one investigated whether preschool children's taste preferences were influenced by branding from a heavily marketed source. To do so, one asked preschool children to taste identical foods in packaging from McDonald's and in matched but unbranded packaging and to indicate if they tasted the same or if one tasted better. One chose McDonald's because it is the largest fast food advertiser in the United States, and one expected most, if not all, preschool children to be familiar with the McDonald's brand because of extensive marketing. One hypothesized that 3- to 5-year-olds would prefer the taste of foods they perceived to be from McDonald's compared with the same...
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