Advertisers eat their words on family diet

June 23, 1995

Families perceive television advertising as having only a marginal influence on children's diets.

The myth that parents are waging a continual battle to ensure their offspring eat healthily is also debunked by research from Leeds University. Parents see themselves as the main influence over what children eat - and their choice is mostly informed by what will be eaten up readily and is easy to prepare.

Researchers from the university-based Psychology Business Ltd concluded television advertising accounts for only 5 per cent of the influence on family food choice.

The family itself generates the main influences, quantified as mother (20 per cent), the children (13 per cent) and father (12 per cent). Promotion of all kinds, including television, packaging and shelf display, accounted for 11 per cent of all the main reasons for selecting food products.

These figures, in research commissioned by the Advertising Association, were arrived at through studying the beliefs and values of interviewees revealed in issue-led discussions, rather than responses to a set list of questions - a system of attributional analysis developed at Leeds. More than 80 families were interviewed.

"Television is often proposed as a powerful influence which can make children violent, damage their education and distort their diets," said the researchers' report. "But television advertising is recognised by families as having a marginal influence on family food choices."

"The overall influence of advertising is relatively small when taken in the context of how family decisions are taken, so claims about the undue influence of advertising should be seen against this background."

They conclude: "Families are most concerned with whether children will eat what is put in front of them and whether they will enjoy it. Therefore parents respond positively to new ideas about food. Nutrition and health, however, were not so important. Children are not continuously pestering their parents for specific advertised foods."

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