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Preschoolers think McDonald’s equals yum


Say what you will, Shakespeare, but a McNugget by any other name is just not as tasty. At least, not to the 3- to 5-year-old set.

Asked to sample two identical foods from the fast-food giant McDonald’s, children preferred the taste of the version branded with the restaurant’s familiar golden arches to one extracted from unmarked paper packaging, according to medical school research. 

“Kids actually believe that the chicken nugget they think is from McDonald’s tastes better than an identical, unbranded nugget,” says Thomas Robinson, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and of medicine and director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

His study was published in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Robinson’s team studied the taste preferences of 63 children between the ages of 3 and 5 enrolled in six Head Start centers in San Mateo County. The children sampled five foods: chicken nuggets, a hamburger, french fries, baby carrots and milk. The chicken nuggets, hamburger and french fries were all from McDonald’s; the carrots and milk were purchased from a grocery store.

Each food sample was divided into two identical portions, one placed in a McDonald’s wrapper, the other in similar wrapping without the McDonald’s logo. The children were randomly asked to taste first one and then the other of the five pairs of food samples and indicate whether they tasted the same or which they thought tasted better. Significantly more children pegged the chicken nuggets, fries, carrots and milk in the McDonald’s wrappers as tastier, despite the fact that the foods were exactly the same.

“The branding effect is very strong, even by only 3 to 5 years of age,” Robinson says.

Recent studies have found that children between the ages of 2 and 11 are exposed to about 5,500 food advertisements every year. Although this is a decrease over past years, the studies also found that the advertising was significantly more concentrated in children’s television programming.

Last December, possibly in response to threatened regulations and lawsuits, McDonald’s and nine other top food companies announced the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Participants agree to devote at least half their advertising messages to promoting healthier choices for children.

“No one is going to propose we totally stop industries from promoting their products,” Robinson says. “But there is a very good argument for regulating and limiting marketing to children.”

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