A study authored by a researcher at University College Dublin has shown that between ages three and four chlidren become greatly more aware of food brands, and that unhealthy labels are the most recognised.
The study was conducted with 172 children in Ireland agred between three and five and a quarter were based in Northern Ireland. The research was lead authored by Mimi Tatlow-Golden of the School of Psychology at University College Dublin.
Participants’ parents filled out questionnaires to determine their eating habits, TV watching habits and family demographics to ensure a wide cross section of society. The children were then shown nine widely available and advertised food brand logos and product images, four deemed healthy and five deemed less so.
Products shown included ones from McDonalds and Cadbury’s.
Researchers asked participants if they knew the brand name based off the logo, if they knew what the food in question was, and if they could match the logo to a picture of the appropriate product.
Across the board older children scored higher at brand recognition. The children could name about a third of the brands on average, name about half the products and in about two thirds of cases match the logo to the product. Children universally scored higher at recognising the five less healthy brands.
Ultimately the research shows that effects of food marketing for unhealthy foods take place through routes other than television advertising alone, and are present before pre-schoolers develop the concept of healthy eating. The researchers want to see tighter marketing restrictions on certain food types aimed at children and beyond TV advertising.
“In the states even where we’ve got some regulation happening, 80 percent of foods advertised are unhealthy,” Tatlow-Golden said. “Here it’s 50 percent, and we would say that’s still way too much.”