Kids Meals, Toys and TV Ads Add Up to Frequent Fast Food

Television ads for fast-food restaurants that target children have a strong influence on families, especially if they offer a free toy, researchers say.

The more often kids watched TV channels that advertised children’s fast-food meals, the more often their families went to the restaurants running the ads, the new study found.

The study included 100 children, aged 3 to 7, and one of their parents. The parents were asked how often their kids watched four children’s TV channels, if their kids asked to go to the two national fast-food chains that advertised on those channels, if their kids collected toys from those restaurant chains, and how often the families visited those fast-food restaurants.

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Almost 80 percent of the two restaurant chains’ child-directed ads aired on those four children’s networks, according to the researchers.

Thirty-seven percent of parents said their families made more frequent visits to the two fast-food chains and 54 percent of kids asked to go to at least one of the restaurants. Of the 29 percent of children who collected toys from the chains, nearly 83 percent asked to go to one or both of the restaurants, the investigators found.

The findings, published online Oct. 30 in The Journal of Pediatrics, show that fast-food restaurant ads on children’s TV channels can exert a significant influence on youngsters, said study author Jennifer Emond, of Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in New Hampshire, and colleagues.

“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,” Emond said in a journal news release.

(Caroleigh’s unsolicited advice: Turn off the TV, go outside and enjoy the day with you kids.  Or, if it’s too close to dinner, include them in dinner prep, if they have choices that they helped make, kids are more likely to take the healthy choices.)

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