Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children's Taste Preferences | Lifestyle Behaviors | JAMA Pediatrics | JAMA Network
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August 2007

Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children's Taste Preferences

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Division of General Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics (Dr Robinson); Stanford Prevention Research Center, Department of Medicine (Drs Robinson and Matheson), and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science (Dr Kraemer), Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California; and the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland (Dr Borzekowski).

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(8):792-797. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.8.792

Objective  To examine the effects of cumulative, real-world marketing and brand exposures on young children by testing the influence of branding from a heavily marketed source on taste preferences.

Design  Experimental study. Children tasted 5 pairs of identical foods and beverages in packaging from McDonald's and matched but unbranded packaging and were asked to indicate if they tasted the same or if one tasted better.

Setting  Preschools for low-income children.

Participants  Sixty-three children (mean ± SD age, 4.6 ± 0.5 years; range, 3.5-5.4 years).

Main Exposure  Branding of fast foods.

Outcome Measures  A summary total taste preference score (ranging from −1 for the unbranded samples to 0 for no preference and +1 for McDonald's branded samples) was used to test the null hypothesis that children would express no preference.

Results  The mean ± SD total taste preference score across all food comparisons was 0.37 ± 0.45 (median, 0.20; interquartile range, 0.00-0.80) and significantly greater than zero (P<.001), indicating that children preferred the tastes of foods and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald’s. Moderator analysis found significantly greater effects of branding among children with more television sets in their homes and children who ate food from McDonald's more often.

Conclusion  Branding of foods and beverages influences young children's taste perceptions. The findings are consistent with recommendations to regulate marketing to young children and also suggest that branding may be a useful strategy for improving young children's eating behaviors.

Trial Registration  clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00185536.