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Commercials and parents influence a child’s diet, according to study

Heather Rudow October 6, 2011

Commercials directly advertising food items to children have been found to have an impact on what children eat, but researchers from Texas A&M International University report that what parents say can influence children’s future meals as well.

In a recent study that was published in The Journal of Pediatrics, 75 children watched cartoons with commercials advertising either french fries or apple slices with dipping sauce. Afterward, the children were allowed to choose a coupon for whether they wanted to eat french fries or apple slices; half of the children’s parents encouraged them to take the healthier option while the other half remained neutral. The study revealed that parental influence had an effect on which snack the children chose:

“Of the children who viewed the commercial for french fries, 71 percent chose the coupon for French fries if their parents remained neutral. However, the number only dropped to 55 percent when the children were encouraged by their parents to choose the healthier option. … Of the children who viewed the commercial for apple slices with dipping sauce, only 46 percent picked french fries when their parents remained neutral; this number dropped to 33 percent when their parents encouraged them to pick the healthier option.”

Says researcher Christopher Ferguson, “Parental encouragement to eat healthy was somewhat able to help undo the message of commercials, although the effects of parents were smaller than we had anticipated. Children were clearly influenced by the commercials they saw; however, parents are not powerless. Parents have an advantage if they are consistent with their long-term messages about healthy eating.”

Ferguson added that advertising can work both for and against healthy eating among children.

Source: Elsevier

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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