TV Ads Can Make Children Want to Eat Fast Food

And if they feature free kid's meal toys—watch out!
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One of my mom's favorite phrases when I was growing up was simultaneously the truest thing I'd ever heard, and the most annoying. Whenever we were watching TV and came across an ad that spurred a desire—a flashy new toy, or more likely a scrumptious fast-food meal—she would sigh and say, "Ah, the power of suggestion!" Those four words sealed the deal...I was definitely NOT getting whatever it was I had just asked for.

Though, as it turns out, that may have been the minority experience. A recent study found that children who were exposed to child-specific advertisements from brands that offer kid's meals are linked to increased family visits to those fast-food restaurants. So, essentially, every time I pined over a McDonald's Happy Meal, I subconsciously influenced my family to seek out the Golden Arches.

A research team at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth analyzed all fast-food TV advertisements that were released in 2009 that used children-directed marketing initiatives, like promoting toy giveaways. According to the study author, 79 percent of the ads targeting children from McDonald's and Burger King aired on just four children's TV networks.

The team then had parents of 100 kids complete a survey to determine how the children viewing the ad affected the family's visits to the fast-food restaurants. Their research found that 37 percent of parents reported more frequent visits to the two fast food chains with child-targeted TV ads. Additionally, 83 percent of the children requested visits to one or both of the restaurants.

While the study notes this is a small sample, it shows that the more frequently a child views fast-food TV ads directed at them, the more likely the family is to visit that restaurant. Unless, of course, you have a mom like mine who refused to indulge me when those persuasive TV ads came on.

Riyana Straetker is an editorial assistant at Parents. Follow her on Twitter: @riyanastraetker.

These moms thought they had everything planned out. Then reality hit, and they realized sometimes you just need to toss the rule book and go with your gut to get through the day.

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