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'McFood' Better Than Food, Kids Say

Preschoolers Say Carrots Better When Served From McDonald's Bag
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Preschoolers Prefer Mcdonalds

Aug. 6, 2007 -- 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 years.

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."

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