Study Shows Fast Food Zombies Are Made At An Early Age

A new study is reporting that very young children are highly susceptible to the daily onslaught of branded fast food advertising: “most 3- and 5-year-olds who taste-tested a variety of foods said they preferred the ones in the McDonald’s wrapper — even though the foods were exactly the same.”

It didn’t matter whether the food was a chicken nugget from Mickey D’s or carrots and milk from the supermarket–when they were presented in branded McDonald’s packaging, the kids thought they tasted better. The study also mentions that more than half the children in the study have TVs in their bedrooms, more than three-quarters have McDonald’s toys at home, and one-third ate at McDonald’s more than once a week.

Dr. Thomas Robinson, who led the study, says, “It’s really an unfair marketplace out there for young children. It’s very clear they cannot understand the persuasive nature of advertising.” (Ha ha! Kids are so dumb! Hey has everyone seen that “Transformers” movie?!?)

It sounds like a good argument for taking the TV out of the four-year-old’s room, but we won’t be the ones suggesting that, for fear of an army of angry parents “explaining” how useful said TV is for placating crazed tykes on a daily basis. So maybe instead, some enterprising person out there should manufacture and sell fake fast-food packaging–bags, nugget containers, cups–for families with young children.

Foods Tastes Better With McDonald’s Logo, Kids Say [Forbes]

(Photo: doviende)

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  1. beyond says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with kids watching TV. That’s DVDs, not broadcast television (ie, no commercials). I do find it humorous that parents often justify feeding McDonald’s to their kids because its a “treat”, when in reality they were just too lazy to cook or too cheap to buy real food.

    The effects of brand advertising on young children is pretty well documented, though, so this is nothing new.

  2. urban_ninjya says:

    Be nice to know the methodologies involved. What the control was.

    I think looks are a big part of the taste experience. Given only 2 burgers, burger1 and burger2. Wrap the same burger in a plain white butcher paper vs. shiny gold foil with the words “Big Mac” on it, it’s bound to picked if they arn’t given a 3rd choice. Just for the sake people spent more time and effort at presentation.

  3. Gloria says:

    I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it? Parents treating fast food as a treat for special occasions, when what’s really special is home-cooked meals every night.

  4. bluegus32 says:

    How is this news? Who pays for these studies? I’ll bet you guys that it was our taxpayer dollars that funds these kinds of studies to analyze the patently obvious. Anyone who’s ever had a child knows that a 3 to 5 year old is so easy to mentally mess with. They are so malleable it’s not even funny. Well, actually, it’s a little funny.

    Oh, and I will say this unequivocally — if your 3 to 5 year old has their own television in their own room and you feed them McDonald’s more than twice per week — you are a bad parent.

  5. Bancho says:

    When my son was 2 we were driving past a McDonalds with a playground and one of the giant inflatable characters on the roof. That caught his eye and he wanted to go there. I told my son it was all dirty clown food and that they make people in jail eat it. He has never asked for McDonalds and he’s 6 years old now. I rule.

  6. dohtem says:

    @beyond: I do find it humorous that parents often justify feeding McDonald’s to their kids because its a “treat”, when in reality they were just too lazy to cook or too cheap to buy real food.

    Before you go making assumptions, you should realize that for some people, their choices/options are limited. For a single mom juggling a job and kids, there is simply no time to prepare a decent meal. Also, I came across some study recently that pointed out, eating healthy actually costs more (can’t remember if it was posted non this site. Too lazy to search).

    True, there are some lazy ones out there that opt for the easy way out, and drive the kids to McD. But for a lot of people, the choices are limited.

  7. synergy says:

    Or very simply not buy it like my mother did. I never had a McDonald’s meal, never had a Happy Meal or the junky toys that come with them, and I don’t feel the worse for it.

    You don’t have to take away t.v., just don’t let them watch it for more than an hour or two a day. Someone just the other day was telling me that his father only allowed him to watch t.v. for one hour a day and he had to pick what he wanted to see during that hour and only that. Plus certain things he just wasn’t allowed to watch despite being targetted towards kids because, according to his father, it was brain rot. Wow! Old school parenting. Amazing.

  8. floofy says:

    All things are fine in moderation.

  9. Crazytree says:

    hate to say it but those fries are awesome.

  10. HungryGrrl says:

    As a child I quickly got sick of finding chunks of tumors in my McNuggets and would only eat fries and apple pies from McDonalds for years. Now I don’t eat there at all… I go to Wendys. :)

    My mom did bring us to McDonalds probably once a week, though, for a quick lunch before going to the grocery store or something. My brothers loved it.

  11. HungryGrrl says:

    And it’s not TV in general that’s bad… it’s the idea of a 4 year old watching UNSUPERVISED television alone in their bedroom that’s scarey.

  12. Clobberella says:

    @dohtem:
    “Not having time” is the oldest excuse in the book. If you have time to pack your kids in the car and drive to and from a fast food place then you have time to make dinner, presuming you have even the slightest cooking skills. All it takes is a little planning, and it’s especially easy if you have things like a crock pot or a bread machine. Also, eating healthy is only more expensive if you shop at Whole Foods or buy things like “organic” frozen dinners. If you spend the bulk of your money on fresh and frozen produce, pasta, grains, beans, etc., you might find it’s actually a lot CHEAPER.

  13. XopherMV says:

    Since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended no television for children under 3, including educational shows. For older children, the academy suggests no more than one to two hours a day of “quality” television. Studies show for each hour of television watched per day before age 3, a child’s reading comprehension and short-term memory scores fell at age 6 and 7. [seattlepi.nwsource.com]

    As for the idea that marketing -gasp- actually works, don’t be so surprised. There is a reason companies have literally spent trillions of dollars over the last hundred years marketing their goods to us. That’s not because they HOPE we’ll buy, but because they KNOW we’ll buy.

  14. FromThisSoil says:

    Why just last night my nephew was over (he’s almost 6). We were grilling for dinner and he wanted a hamburger.

    This is what happened:

    Me: “Here you go.”
    Him: “What’s that?”
    Me: “A hamburger.”
    Him: “I don’t like that!”
    Me: “You asked for it.”
    Him: “I only like McDonald’s and Wendy’s hamburgers!”
    Me: “Fine, I’ll eat it and I guess you’re not having dinner.”
    Him: “Waaah! *proceeds to throw tantrum*”

    Just goes to show you how much these fast food places have your kids by the balls.

  15. kingoman says:

    @Bancho: Of course, you had to LIE to your son to accomplish it. I could argue that in this case it was for a good cause, but still… ;-)

    Reminds me of when I was 7 and looked at the TV page and asked my mom what this “Star Trek” show was that was on that night. She said not to bother, I wouldn’t like it. Silly me, I listened. It was 7 more years before I saw it in reruns. I never forgot what she had said. And I never let her forget it, either!

  16. humphrmi says:

    @kingoman: The advertising media throw lies at your children all day, if not overtly then at least venally, by suggesting to them that their food and/or restaurants is tastier and more fun than anyone else’s. Using similar tactics against them is not only justified, it’s likely necessary.

  17. Amelie says:

    My mother put whole wheat bread in a Wonder Bread wrapper, when I was a kid. The study may be new, but kids have been this way forever.

  18. Bancho says:

    @kingoman: Hehe, it worked much better that I could have ever dreamed. Now that he’s older he’s well aware that I was pulling his leg and I think he actualy understands why. Just thinking about it as “dirty clown food” still cracks me up though.

    @Clobberella: Absolutley true. Cooking doesn’t have to be a huge effort. Lots of meals can be made cheaply and quickly. I’m sick of hearing the “cop out” answer of “too expensive” or “no time”.

  19. drjayphd says:

    @Crazytree: Eh, the Roy Rogers down the street was better. Probably because of all the NYC/Boston buses that’d just go there and hop back on the highway. Then they closed and Arby’s opened up shop there… and sacked the normal fries. Bastards.

  20. rdldr1 says:

    Yeah… what else is new? I had my birthday party at McDonalds probably three times when I was little.

  21. mopar_man says:

    I guess parents have nothing to do with this…

  22. ExtraCelestial says:

    I grew up with a corporate lawyer and a real estate agent as parents so needless to say they were NEVER home. However my mom would make meals for the whole week on Sunday night and keep them in the fridge, we would just stick them in the microwave at meal time for a fast, nutrious, three course meal. McDonald’s was a once a month thing at most and actually we didn’t even like it.

  23. JustIcedCoffee says:

    this would work on adults as well.
    Take some chinese food and put it in a Mr Chow box, and same food into a Panda Express box, and I’m sure the Mr Chow grub would score better.

  24. kingoman says:

    @humphrmi: Um, yeah, but the advertising industry isn’t raising my children.

    As I said, I can argue that in this case, it’s ok (and since he says son understands and agrees now and it’s a big joke, then great). My point was that it’s the kind of thing that can have unintended consequences years later. Kids have a way of resenting people who they think aren’t straight with them.

  25. stellarperfidy says:

    I work at a convenience store chain, and every day I watch droves of middle-aged working people pour through my stores. To get a substantiating meal from the junk we, and places like McDonald’s sell, you have to spend a good $6.00, maybe $10.00 if you’re me. For $6.00/$10.00, you can get enough food at a grocery store to feed you for an entire day, which will be healthier almost by default. It’s no wonder the people that come into my stores all the time are always broke..

    We can all do a very good thing for the future by keeping our kids away from this nasty junk, tell them it tastes terrible, makes you feel terrible, and isn’t nearly as cheap as they make it sound, because it isn’t.

    This is a testament to the fact that these places are all marketing, which is why McDonald’s spends all their money on marketing rather than providing quality food.

  26. Rusted says:

    My first nine years, I ate nothing but Middle Eastern food. Always fresh, not much in the way of preserved garbage, and much more balanced.

    So, the early years do matter. Fast food after all this time is still too salty and greasy. I’m in very good health and think that not having an average American diet in those early years was a big factor.

    It’s how you raise em’ I guess.

  27. SadSam says:

    How is tv, tv/videos/dvds, etc., good for kids (especially little ones)? Today there was a report that those Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby dvds actually make kids dumber than those kids who had mom/dad read to them. I don’t have kids, just wondering what the parents out there think.

  28. Wasn’t there some other study that said children were perceptive and intelligent?

    This totally disproves that.

  29. Starfury says:

    I have 2 kids and for a while fast food was becoming a staple (1-2 times a week)for all of us. I finally said “no more!” and put a ban on eating out fast food more than 1 time every 2 weeks. It was costing way too much money and all of us were putting on weight. Now if they want a cheeseburger I’ll cook that for dinner using lean hamburger instead of the 30% fat stuff they use at McDs.

  30. supra606 says:

    I really think people should have to get a license or pass a test or SOMTHING to be parents. There are so many pathetic parents out there today; I hate to think about what our world is going to be like when these monsters they’re creating grow up and are running it. If you can’t handle having kids, DON’T HAVE THEM! How is that so complicated?

  31. alienorgy69 says:

    I was raised on TV and fast food since my parents were working their butts off just so we could live half-way decently and I’m none the worse for it. I read more often than watching TV and despite having 5 fast food places within walking distance, I’m eating a nice bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. It really boils down to what perceptions are ingrained into your head when you’re young. My parents were always pretty straight-forward with me. I grew up knowing what’s bad for you, and experienced them first-hand. (and no, I’m not brain-dead or fat.)

  32. theblackdog says:

    Over half of the kids had a TV in their room? I’m going to say what consumerist won’t, the kids do NOT need a TV in their bedroom. I’d rather they be out in the living room where I can keep a continual eye on what they’re watching.

    I admit that I was bad in college about getting fast food, but now I’m staying away as much as possible. I’d rather drop by a supermarket deli to get something quick than drop by McDonalds. At least I can make healthier choices there.

  33. SkyeBlue says:

    I’m a SAHM who earns a bit of extra money doing alot of online surveys and I can tell you that it is almost CREEPY how intensively detailed some product manufacturers are in regards to gearing their advertising towards children.

    My children like earning some money doing them also. These companies get really detailed on wanting to know how the products and the advertising they are thinking of using makes them FEEL. As an example about 2 weeks ago they did a quite detailed survey about an old movie that Disney is going to re-release soon. The company wanted their opinions on pictures that will be on the box covers for these movies. the company is gearing one towards boys and one towards girls and was very interested in how the pictures “made them feel”. One question was , “Would this cover make you stop and pick up the movie?” I’m sure they know that once Little Tmmy picks up that movie, with that cover they know after many $$$ worth of research is irrisistable for boys, that getting it away from him can be quite the chore.

    From having done these surveys for quite a while I think that alot of these major corporations think that American children are the ones who control the purse string in the average home.

  34. ediebeale says:

    @Clobberella: Absolutely. Another thing about eating healthy being more expensive is, well, maybe it’s “more expensive” now, but what about when that kid grows up to have health problems, HBP, obesity, etc.? Preventative nutrition and health is a heck of a lot cheaper than being unhealthy when you’re older and having to pay for medicine, surgery, weight loss camp, etc.

  35. SaraAB87 says:

    Oh but American children ARE the ones that control the purse strings in the average American home. I too have filled out surveys like you mention and they do ask questions like you describe. I know so many families that will buy or give their kid ANYTHING if they say they want it, which seems to be the American way nowadays. Advertisers and product makers are more savvy then ever to children’s wants, and try to target children exactly so that they will not be able to resist the product being advertised to them, thus draining the parents wallet and putting money into their own pocket. Kid wants a Wii video game system, they get it, kid wants McDonalds, they get it, kid sees something on television they want.. they get it immediately. Plus you just see it every day when you are shopping, random kid is crying and whining for something, parent gives item to kid, kid stops whining and crying. Much easier to give the kid the item instead of taking the effort to tell them they don’t NEED the item. Hmm… maybe filling out the survey’s has led me to see what parents cannot.. and maybe it will make me more knowledgable if someday I decide to have children of my own.

    I also sell a lot of items on ebay, and sometimes I just laugh at the money I make on toy-related items because they have a certain character on them that has been deemed unpopular by the masses and retail stores, yet some kids still want items with those characters on them. Since it is not sold in stores, the second hand market skyrockets for the items. Last year I sold a used school backpack for around 60$ because it had characters that were deemed unpopular by retail stores a few years ago on it, but kids still like these characters and my god they HAVE to have a backpack with these characters on it, so much so that parents will go to the extreme and pay 60$+ for a backpack worth about 5-10$ just to make their kid happy. I also watched someone sell a backpack with these characters on it for $132 last back-to-school season. This just proves that parents will pay anything to get their kids what they want.

  36. quagmire0 says:

    @THEBLACKDOG: Right on! I can’t believe how much crap parents give their kids these days. They have their own TV, own PC, own iPod, own video game system, own cell phone, etc. etc. I have a 3.5 month old right now, and I can tell you we are going to be the least popular parents on the block. Why? Because our kids’ rooms will be devoid of technology. There will be a communal desktop PC located in an open area of the house (and a laptop for Mom and Dad) that they will have to learn to share, it’ll have monitoring software on it, they won’t get cell phones until they are old enough to have an agenda that will actually take them far away from the house to need one, and video game play will actually be limited to a certain number of hours a week. After that, it’s kick your butt out the door and go do something that involves physical activity.

    Sure, it won’t all go to plan, I’m sure, but we at least agree that kids are just too damn spoiled these days. I’d much rather save all that money in a 529 so they aren’t up to their ears in debt when they graduate college. At that point, they’ll thank us.

  37. andrewsmash says:

    I love that every politician claims to care about the family (both sides), but unlike every other civilized nation, we sell our kids down the river in the name of corporate profits. I guess it won’t stop until….hmmm….I better get a book, this could take a while.

  38. Andrewcool says:

    I am 17 years old, and I don’t have a TV in my room.

    @QUAGMIRE0, If you limit their exposure to technology too much, it could become harmful as more and more jobs are technology related.