Children who view commercials for fast food restaurants are more likely to visit those restaurants with their family, according to new research.
For parents, this research probably is not surprising. How many times have you been driving down the road when you hear your kids from the backseat begging to visit McDonald’s? And when you do finally give in and take them to the restaurant, they don’t even finish their chicken nuggets because they’re too distracted by the toy they got? It’s just not right that I have to bribe my child to finish their greasy food so they can play with a toy that itself is usually an advertisement.
Turns out there may be a scientific explanation for this all-too-often experience. A new study published in the January 2016 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, surveyed 100 parents of children ages 3-7. Parents reported on their child’s TV-viewing habits and how often the family visited fast food restaurants that were advertising in the area at the time. Results found that the more children saw the fast food commercials, the more often the family visited those restaurants. What’s more, collecting the toys seemed to be the link between viewing the commercials and visiting the restaurants. In other words, the more children see fast food commercials, the more they want the toys, and the more they want the toys, the more their family visits the restaurants. A separate study, in fact, found that children are 1.38 times more likely to eat at McDonald’s if they know what toy is being offered with the meal.
To put this in perspective with other research, one of the most common effects of advertising directed at children is parent-child conflict. Commercials create a desire for something in children, which leads to product requests, which leads to what I call whining and nagging when parents say no, until finally, the parent gives in and gets the child what s/he wants.
So, what’s a parent to do? Based on my reading of the research, waiting to have a conversation about fast food (or any other advertised product) until the child is standing in front of the product (or driving by a restaurant) is not going to cut it. Conversations about the nutritional value of fast food, about saving money for things we want in the long-term, and about waiting for a special occasion instead of asking for something now, now, now, should happen well in advance of the moment of purchase. Just as it’s better to fix your car brakes before they go bad, instead of fixing them after a fender bender, I believe parents should have conversations about advertising ahead of time, and often, in order to avoid conflict that leads to a parent giving-in in a moment of parent guilt.
Has this reminded you of any similar experiences? How have you dealt with child-directed advertising in your family?