North Carolina: McDonald’s Corp.’s packaging makes preschoolers think its Chicken McNuggets, hamburgers and french fries taste better, according to a Stanford University study aimed at reducing childhood obesity. “Specific branding can alter young children’s taste preferences,” reads an article in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Thomas Robinson, the author and a pediatrician, said food companies should serve healthier items to help stem rising childhood obesity rates.
Sixty-three children who took part in the research tasted foods and beverages from McDonald’s, some of them served in regular McDonald’s packaging, and some in plain paper. The kids, who ranged in age from three to five, preferred the taste of the items in the McDonald’s wrappers.
The Journal of American Medical Association publication appeared three weeks after General Mills Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., PepsiCo Inc. and other companies said they will change how they market food to children to promote healthier eating. The companies announced the steps at a US federal trade commission hearing amid growing criticism of advertising to kids by packaged food and restaurant firms.
McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant company, said the only Happy Meals it advertises contain white-meat McNuggets, fresh apple slices and low-fat milk, which total 375 calories.
The “Shrek the Third” film promotion in May marked the company’s biggest effort to advertise fruit, vegetables and milk, McDonald’s Corp.’s spokesperson Walt Riker said. “To put this topic in the proper context, McDonald’s Happy Meal customers on average purchase two a month.”
Robinson said that US food companies should eliminate advertising to kids in “a move of responsibility” to stem obesity rates approaching 20% for US children of ages 6-11.
The percentage of overweight youngsters in the US has more than tripled since 1980, according to the US Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, making companies targeting children vulnerable to criticism.