Monday, May 25, 2015

A sneaky parenting trick: pairing toys with healthier fast food

Studies suggest kids care more about getting toys than eating healthy - how can you help them make good choices?

A sneaky parenting trick: pairing toys with healthier fast food

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

by Sari Harrar

A new Canadian study says that little kids are three times more interested in healthier fast-food options when they’re the only ones that come with a toy. It’s really no surprise…what parent hasn’t had a little kid go wild in the backseat for a little plastic thingie in their fast-food sack and barely notice what they’re eating? But…this study gave me a sneaky idea. Why not set your own “toys with good food only” rule at the drive-through?

Canadian scientists stacked the deck.  They offered 350 kids, ages 6 to 12, McDonalds Happy Meals of better and worse nutritional quality -- but a little plastic Smurf toy came only with the good stuff. Kids could choose a hamburgers or a grilled chicken wrap with fries and a soda or with  apple slices and bottled water. The kids were going to a YMCA day camp and ordered the meals from a form, so the researchers could manipulate which had the toys.

The scientists say they hope the finding will convince McDonald’s and other toy-happy chains to incentivize their healthier kids meals. But in a statement, McDonald’s Canada said no dice. “The toy is a fun and engaging part of the Happy Meal experience for kids and parents alike, and we have no plans to change it,” the company said.

More coverage
Dealing with a picky eater

This made the researchers sad. “They’re investing tons of money,” the lead researcher told the news media. “They know toys have a strong influence on kids’ food choices. Our study is supporting that.  But they can also encourage healthy eating, not necessarily only for kids to order fries and the hamburger and pop. According to the researcher, the top-10 U.S. fast-food chains spend almost $1-billion a year on child-directed marketing and toy premiums.

You could wait for change, or you could use this to create change. Gotta use the drive-through? Why not just tell your kids they’ll get a toy only with a meal that includes milk and fruit. They’ll get less fat and sodium and a nutritional bonus: An extra serving of dairy -- rich in calcium, vitamin D and magnesium -- and about a half-serving of produce.

Give it a try and let know how it goes!

About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Division Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Emiliano Tatar, M.D. Pediatrician at Einstein Healthcare Network Roxborough Plaza
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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