'McFood' Better Than Food, Kids Say

Whether it's french fries or carrots, preschoolers say food
tastes better when it comes in a McDonald's wrapper.

It's not the food -- it's the brand name. Marketing strongly affects
4-year-olds' food preferences, find Stanford University pediatrics researcher
Thomas N. Robinson, MD, MPH, and colleagues.

Robinson and colleagues studied 63 low-income children enrolled in Head
Start centers in California. The kids ranged in age from 3 years to 5

Told they were playing a food-tasting game, the kids sat at a table with a
screen across the middle. A researcher reached around either side of the screen
to put out two identical food samples: slices of a hamburger, french fries,
chicken nuggets, milk, or baby carrots.

The only difference between the pairs of food samples was that one came in a
plain wrapper, cup, or bag, and the other came in a clean, unused McDonald's
wrapper, cup, or bag. The kids were asked whether they liked one of the foods
best, or whether they tasted the same.

In all cases, the majority of the kids said the "best" foods were
those linked to the McDonald's brand -- even though the only differences
between the bags were the McDonald's logos (no special advertising materials
were used).

  • 77% of the kids said the same french fries -- from McDonald's -- were
    better in a McDonald's bag than in a plain bag (13% liked the ones in the plain
    bag; 10% could tell they were the same).

  • 61% of the kids said milk tasted better in a McDonald's cup (21% liked milk
    in a plain cup; 18% could tell it was the same).

  • 59% of the kids said chicken nuggets tasted better in a McDonald's bag (18%
    liked them in a plain bag; 23% could tell they were the same).

  • 54% of the kids said carrots tasted better in a McDonald's bag (23% liked
    them in a plain bag; another 23% could tell were the same).

  • 48% of the kids liked hamburgers better in a McDonald's wrapper (37% liked
    them in a plain wrapper; 15% could tell they were the same).

Kids who preferred 'McFood' tended to live in homes with a greater number of
television sets and tended to eat at McDonald's more often than kids not
influenced by the McDonald's brand name.

"Children preferred the taste of carrots and milk if they thought they
were from McDonald's," Robinson and colleagues conclude. "This is an
opportunity for heavily marketed brands to respond to rising rates of childhood
obesity by changing their product offerings."

McDonald's Reaction

McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker says McDonald's is doing just that.

"McDonald's is only advertising Happy Meals with white meat McNuggets,
fresh apple slices, and low-fat milk -- a right-sized meal of only 375
calories," Riker tells WebMD. "Additionally, our recent program with
'Shrek' was our biggest-ever promotion of fruits, vegetables, and milk, another
indication of our progressive approach to responsible marketing."

Riker says McDonald's own research "confirms that we've earned
[parents'] trust as a responsible marketer based on decades of delivering the
safest food, the highest quality toys, and the kind of choice and variety
today's families are looking for."

In December 2005, the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a
CDC-funded study on
food marketing to children . The study found that advertisers used highly
sophisticated techniques to target children who are too young to know the
difference between advertising claims and truth.

As a result, the IOM study showed, companies succeed in getting children to
eat ever more high-calorie, low-nutrient -- and high-profit -- junk food.

The Robinson study appears in the August issue of Archives of Pediatric
and Adolescent Medicine
. The journal last year published a series of
studies linking media messages to harmful effects on children's health --
including child obesity.

Three-year-ods, one of the studies found, are three times more likely to be
overweight if they spend two or more hours a day in a room with a TV on.

"Past studies have shown that the content of children's TV commercials
is overwhelmingly about junk food," University of Michigan researcher Julie
C. Lumeng, MD, told WebMD last year.B "And if you show kids
commercials, they ask for the junk food. So it may be the TV, even at this
early age, is shaping their food preferences."

By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang
B)2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved