Yesterday, we found a very unsurprising study which noted that children who watch a lot of TV tend to be worse about controlling their blood sugar. The study, which didn’t look at the dietary habits of these kids, had the researchers stumped as to what could be the reason for the connection. Today, another study released seems to answer why that may be: because the advertising they see while watching TV is effective, and makes them want to eat junk food. But here’s the rub: parents can help guide their kids in the right direction.
In an unrelated study reported on by HealthDay, researchers at Texas A&M looked at the behavior of a small group of children, ages 3 to 5, who watched a combination of cartoons and commercials. Some of the children saw commercials featuring french fries, while the others saw commercials with apple slices (like the ones that McDonald’s has made standard for all Happy Meals). Then, the children were given the choice between 2 coupons–one for each product.
However, there was an additional, critical level to the research: half of the kids, when choosing their coupon, were offered no input from their parents. The other half were in the company of their parents, who were told to encourage the kid to make a healthier choice.
Kids who had seen the french fry commercial and whose parents recommended apples were nearly 20% less likely to opt for the fries. Kids who’d seen the apple slices and also had encouraging parents chose the healthier snack almost 70% of the time.
Conversely, 70% is also the number of children with no parental involvement who had seen the commercial for junk food that chose the fries.
Unlike yesterday’s study, which only looked at a few aspects of behavior (and thus, seemed unable to actually draw a conclusion), this research seems much more well-rounded, by studying not only advertising’s effect on the choices kids make, but also the potential for parental intervention, which seems strongly correlated. It’s also encouraging to see that, in spite of advertising’s power, parents who take a pro-active approach by recommending smart choices are still able to overcome it.
It’s not as if the importance of parental guidance in the face of advertising is new. I dug up this study, which is over 30 years old, that discusses the FTC’s recommendation to put a halt to advertising targeted at kids under 12, and studies the parent’s role. That was in 1979.
By now, it should be an inarguable fact that advertisers who target children are, despite how we may feel about it, doing their jobs by shaping young consumers. Studies like this one, however, indicate that parents must also do their jobs: shape young, healthy humans.