Toy tie-ins make kids pester for healthy food as much as for junk food

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Toy tie-ins make kids pester for healthy food as much as for junk food

Related tags Nutrition

Campaigners have been putting pressure on brands that use toys to sell unhealthy foods after an Australian study revealed the scale of the impact they have on what kids want to eat.

The study, by Cancer Council Victoria, claims to point out “what food companies have known for decades​”: namely that toys can shape a child’s appetite.

Pressure groups believe its results could spell the end of McDonald’s Happy Meals and Kinder Surprises.

Involving more than 900 Australian children aged 5-9, researchers found that when a movie character toy was offered with a fast-food meal, children were more likely to want that meal, regardless of what it consisted of. 

Lead author Helen Dixon said that toys and unhealthy foods have been a boon for marketeers, and their combination should be banned altogether.

Movie tie-ins and free character toys are powerful tools used by fast food chains and food manufacturers to attract kids. Our research really captures the enormous impact this approach has​," Dr Dixon said. 

However, the CCV study concedes that children would ask their parents for a meal offered with a character toy even when it was a healthier option.

Children believed the meal with the toy looked better, would taste better, and that they would feel happier if their parents bought them that meal​.

"Given the ‘pester power’ parents face from their children, restricting toy premiums to healthy foods would harness this persuasive technique to support, rather than undermine, parent's efforts to help their kids achieve a healthy diet​,” Dr Dixon added. 

Unhealthy foods on average contribute as much as 41% of daily energy for Australian school-aged children, according to Jane Martin, executive manager of Obesity Policy Coalition.

"The World Health Organisation is concerned about the power of free toys in promoting unhealthy foods and drinks to children​,” she said, adding that some districts in California have already banned restaurants from providing toys with children's meals that don't meet set nutritional standards. 

At a time when one in four Australian children is overweight or obese, we strongly encourage government to introduce policies to restrict food companies from offering toys and other child-oriented giveaways with unhealthy food and drinks​,” Martin added.  

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