Researchers learned that whenever kids watch fast-food commercials that promote kids’ meals or the toys in those meals, they are more likely to persuade the entire family to go out more and dine at fast-food restaurants.
And the findings are disturbing since kids are exposed to a large quantity of food ads every day. According to a 2013 study, U.S. children under age 9 watch TV for 35 hours every week, which is a full workweek in many countries in Europe.
While the amount of advertisements kids absorb is colossal, about half of those ads are food-related. The 2013 research showed that a U.S. kid sees a dozen food-related ads per day, or more than 4,300 per year.
In the recent study, a group of researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth analyzed all fast-foods aired on national television in 2009. The team found that only two fast-food chains particularly targeted kids on kids’ channels.
In a second phase, researchers surveyed the parents of the 100 kids, aged 3 to 7, who participated in the research. Parents were asked simple questions on whether their kids watched children’s TV channels and if they did, how often; whether their kids ever asked them to go and eat at one of the two restaurant chain that had ads on the channels; whether parents brought other family members with them; and whether their kids collected toys from the restaurants’ meals for kids.
The recent study revealed that kids’ meal ads are highly effective. About 83 percent of kids asked their family to visit the two restaurant chains, while nearly 30 percent collected the toys. About 37 percent of parents admitted that they ate at one or both fast-food restaurant chains more often than they did at other restaurants.
But marketers and child psychology experts had long known that child-directed ads that are aired on children’s networks are extremely persuasive. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry explained that children are most vulnerable because they cannot discern right from wrong. As a result they are more likely to be influenced by commercials.
And it is all the more concerning that other ads children watch also promote alcohol, toys, and junk food. And kids are thought to love those products from their early age.
According to another study, two-thirds of infants watch TV for 2 hours on average daily. But health experts recommend children under the age 2 to stay away from TV, while older kids should not watch more than 2 hours. But that’s only in theory.
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