The powerful effects of fast food ads can trump parental influence, but moms and dads still have hope when it comes to getting their kids to eat healthily, a new study suggests.
Researchers at Texas A&M International University studied 75 children, aged 3 to 5, and showed them cartoons with commercials.
Half of the children watched commercials for French fries while the other half watched commercials for apple slices in dipping sauce.
The kids were then given the choice between two coupons, one for the fries, one for the apple slices. Their parents either encouraged them to go for the healthier option or stayed neutral and let their kids decide.
Seventy-one percent of the kids who watched the commercial for French fries chose the coupon for that food when their parents remained neutral. When their parents encouraged them to go for the healthier apple option, that number went down to 55 percent.
The results for the kids who watched the commercials for apple slices were just as grim.
Forty-six percent of the children who watched the commercial for apple slices picked the coupon for French fries while their parents stayed neutral. When parents encouraged them to be healthy and go for the apple slices, the number went down to 33 percent.
Results surprised researchers.
Parental encouragement to eat healthy was somewhat able to help undo the message of commercials, although the effects of parents were smaller than we had anticipated, lead author Christopher Ferguson said in a statement.
But while commercials have a powerful effect on young children, Ferguson said that parents should not feel powerless.
Parents have an advantage if they are consistent with their long-term messages about healthy eating, he said.
Organizations such as the American Dietetic Association (ADA) have several helpful hints for raising healthy eaters.
The ADA suggests that parents provide calm and pleasant meal times that encourage dialogue between them and their children, as well as trying a variety of foods.
Make meals a colorful event, the ADA suggests on its Web site. Serve up vegetables and fruits, whole grains and healthy proteins. Enjoy family meals together and involve your child in the planning and preparation.