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Food Ads Impact Child Food Choices Despite Parental Input

The impact of commercials on food choices in children can only be slightly moderated by parents

THURSDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Food advertisements moderately influence the food choices made by children, and parental input only slightly moderates that influence, according to a study published online Oct. 6 in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., from Texas A&M International University in Laredo, and colleagues investigated the impact of food advertisements on food choices made by children, the strength of the impact, and whether the impact could be offset by parental influences. A total of 75 children aged 3 to 8 years were shown a series of cartoon programs with embedded commercials. Some of the children were randomized to watch a commercial for a relatively healthy food item from a fast food company, while the other children watched a commercial for a less healthy food item from the same fast food company. The children were also randomly assigned to either receive encouragement from their parent to choose the healthier item or to select whichever item they preferred.

The investigators found that regardless of parental input, children were more likely to choose the food they saw advertised. The ability of parental input to moderate the advertising influence was only slight.

"Although advertising impact on children's food choices is moderate in size, it appears resilient to parental efforts to intervene. Food advertisements directed at children may have a small but meaningful effect on their healthy food choices," the authors write.

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