Toys affect children’s food choices

Happy Meal Photo by Peter Zaki, Flickr

Happy Meal
Photo by Peter Zaki, Flickr

Adapted from The Vancouver Sun

Level 2

Children like food that comes with a toy.
Canadian scientists studied kids ages six to 12.
The children chose one of four meals from a menu.
Some meals came with a toy.
Some meals did not come with a toy.
Kids chose a healthier meal more times
if a toy came with the meal.
The toys were small copies of Smurfs.
That week, Smurfs were in a movie showing in the city.

Smurf toys Photo by Guerilla, Flickr

Smurf toys
Photo by Guerilla, Flickr

The study: group one
More than 330 children were in the study.
The children were put into two groups.
Group One could choose one of four meals.
Two of the meals were healthier and had a toy.
The other two meals were not as healthy.
Those meals were high in fat, sugar, and salt.
These two less healthy meals did not have a toy.

The study: group two
The children in the other group
could pick from the same meals as Group One.
But, all four choices had toys.

happymealy Photo:  Public domain,  Flickr

Photo: Public domain, Flickr

Healthy choice
In Group One, if a toy came with the meal,
children chose a healthier meal three times more often.
It was a meal with apple slices and caramel sauce.
The drink with the meal was water.
The other choices with no toys came with fries and pop.
Fries and pop are higher in fat, salt and sugar.

What researchers found
The researchers say that toys strongly affect food choices.
Toys have a stronger influence on boys, they found.

Overweight children
One-quarter of Canadian children are overweight or obese.
Many people think fast-food companies use
toys to influence children to eat unhealthy food.
Fast-food restaurants sell more than 1.2 billion
children’s meals with toys each year.

Eating healthy snacks at home
A study in the U.S. found that children will eat,
and enjoy, healthier snacks if the food is served to them.
The researchers gave over 200 children in Grades 3 – 6
either potato chips, or cheese and vegetables.
The children watched cartoons.

Results of the study
The children who ate the cheese and vegetables
felt just as full as the children who ate the chips.
But the children in the vegetable group ate 60% fewer calories.
But they still felt full.

Improve children’s diets
Researchers had several suggestions.
Make healthier snacks available at home.
Present healthy choices in a creative way.
For example, a school had carrots on a lunchroom menu.
When they called them just “carrots” one day,
children ate 32% of the vegetable.
The staff called them “X-ray Vision Carrots” on another day.
That day, children ate 66% of the carrots on the menu.

Food marketing rules
Researchers say marketing can help kids
get the foods they need. Marketing can also
encourage kids to want the foods that are best for them.
Canada has few rules for food marketing to children.
The government says it has a plan to reduce obesity in children.

 Baby eating fries Photo by Tony Malloy (awmalloy), Flickr

Baby eating fries
Photo by Tony Malloy (awmalloy), Flickr

For healthy snacks, see the slideshow on the blog.

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