Skip to main content

Exposure to ‘healthy’ fast food meal bundles in television advertisements promotes liking for fast food but not healthier choices in children

  • Emma J. Boyland (a1), Melissa Kavanagh-Safran (a1) and Jason C. G. Halford (a1)

Due to regulatory changes, fast food companies often depict healthy foods in their television advertisements to children. The present study examined how exposure to advertising for ‘healthy’ meal bundles to children influenced the selection of food in children. A total of fifty-nine children (thirty-seven males) aged 7–10 years (8·8 (sd 0·9) years) took part in the present study. The within-participant, counterbalanced design had two conditions: control (exposure to ten toy adverts across two breaks of five adverts each) and experimental (the middle advert in each break replaced with one for a McDonald's Happy Meal® depicting the meal bundle as consisting of fish fingers, a fruit bag and a bottle of mineral water). Following viewing of the adverts embedded in a cartoon, children completed a hypothetical menu task that reported liking for McDonald's food and fast food, in general. Nutritional knowledge, height and weight of the children were measured. There was no significant difference between the two advert conditions for the nutritional content of the meal bundles selected. However, children's liking for fast food, in general, increased after exposure to the food adverts relative to control (P= 0·004). Compared to children with high nutritional knowledge, those with low scores selected meals of greater energy content (305 kJ) after viewing the food adverts (P= 0·016). Exposure to adverts for ‘healthy’ meal bundles did not drive healthier choices in children, but did promote liking for fast food. These findings contribute to debates about food advertising to children and the effectiveness of related policies.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Exposure to ‘healthy’ fast food meal bundles in television advertisements promotes liking for fast food but not healthier choices in children
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Exposure to ‘healthy’ fast food meal bundles in television advertisements promotes liking for fast food but not healthier choices in children
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Exposure to ‘healthy’ fast food meal bundles in television advertisements promotes liking for fast food but not healthier choices in children
      Available formats
Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Dr E. J. Boyland, email
Hide All
1 Hastings G, Stead M, McDermott L, et al. (2003) Review of Research on the Effects of Food Promotion to Children. Glasgow: Centre for Social Marketing, The University of Strathclyde.
2 Cairns G, Angus K & Hastings G (2009) The Extent, Nature and Effects of Food Promotion to Children: A Review of the Evidence to December 2008. Prepared for the World Health Organisation. Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling & the Open University . Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press.
3 Kunkel D, Wilcox BL & Cantor J, et al. (2004) Report of the APA task force on advertising and children. (accessed accessed 17 January 2005).
4 Institute of Medicine (2006) Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
5 Story M & French S (2004) Food advertising and marketing directed at children and adolescents in the US. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 1, 319.
6 Boyland EJ, Harrold JA, Kirkham TC, et al. (2011) Food commercials increase preference for energy-dense foods, particularly in children who watch more television. Pediatrics 128, e93e100.
7 Halford JCG, Boyland EJ, Cooper GD, et al. (2008) Children's food preferences: effects of weight status, food type, branding and television food advertisements (commercials). Int J Pediatr Obes 3, 3138.
8 Borzekowski DLG & Robinson TN (2001) The 30-second effect: an experiment revealing the impact of television commercials on food preferences of preschoolers. J Am Diet Assoc 101, 4246.
9 Buijzen M & Valkenburg PM (2003) The effects of television advertising on materialism, parent–child conflict and unhappiness: a review of research. J App Dev Psychol 24, 437456.
10 Halford JCG, Gillespie J, Brown V, et al. (2004) Effect of television advertisements for foods on food consumption in children. Appetite 42, 221225.
11 Halford JCG, Boyland EJ, Hughes GM, et al. (2008) Beyond-brand effect of television food advertisements on food choice in children: the effects of weight status. Public Health Nutr 11, 897904.
12 Epstein LH, Roemmich JN, Robinson JL, et al. (2008) A randomized trial of the effects of reducing television viewing and computer use on body mass index in young children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 162, 239245.
13 Barr-Anderson DJ, Larson NI, Nelson MC, et al. (2009) Does television viewing predict dietary intake five years later in high school students and young adults? Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 6, 7.
14 Boyland EJ, Harrold JA, Kirkham TC, et al. (2011) The extent of food advertising to children on UK television in 2008. Int J Pediatr Obes 6, 455461.
15 Kelly B, Halford JCG, Boyland EJ, et al. (2010) Television food advertising to children: a global perspective. Am J Public Health 100, 17301736.
16 Grier SA, Mensinger J, Huang SH, et al. (2007) Fast-food marketing and children's fast-food consumption: exploring parents' influences in an ethnically diverse sample. J Pub Policy Mark 26, 221235.
17 Grossman M, Tekin E & Wada R (2012) Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and its Influence on Youth Body Composition. NBER Working paper No. 18640. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
18 Andreyeva T, Kelly IR & Harris JL (2011) Exposure to food advertising on television: associations with children's fast food and soft drink consumption and obesity. Econ Hum Biol 9, 221233.
19 Chou SY, Rashad I & Grossman M (2008) Fast-food restaurant advertising on television and its influence on childhood obesity. J Law Econ 51, 599618.
20 McClure AC, Tanski SE, Gilbert-Diamond D, et al. (2013) Receptivity to television fast-food restaurant marketing and obesity among U.S. youth. Am J Prev Med 45, 560568.
21 McNeal JU (1999) The Kids Market: Myths and Realities. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Market Publishing.
22 Sahud HB, Binns HJ, Meadow WL, et al. (2006) Marketing fast food: impact of fast food restaurants in children's hospitals. Pediatrics 118, 22902297.
23 Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Adachi-Mejia AM, et al. (2013) How television fast food marketing aimed at children compares with adult advertisements. PLOS ONE 8, e72479.
24 St-Onge M-P, Keller K & Heymsfield S (2003) Changes in childhood food consumption patterns: a cause for concern in light of increasing body weights. Am J Clin Nutr 78, 10681073.
25 Bauer K, Larson N, Nelson M, et al. (2009) Fast food intake among adolescents: secular and longitudinal trends from 1999 to 2004. Prev Med 48, 284287.
26 Newman CL, Howlett E & Burton S (2014) Implications of fast food restaurant concentration for preschool-aged childhood obesity. J Bus Res 67, 15731580.
27 Patterson R, Risby A & Chan M-Y (2012) Consumption of takeaway and fast food in a deprived inner London Borough: are they associated with childhood obesity? BMJ Open 2, e000402.
28 Ofcom (2007) Television advertising of food and drink products to children – final statement. (accessed accessed August 2014).
29 Rayner M, Scarborough P & Stockley L (2004) Nutrient Profiles. Options for Definitions for Use in Relation to Food Promotion and Children's Diets. London: Food Standards Agency.
30 Galbraith-Emami S & Lobstein T (2013) The impact of initiatives to limit the advertising of food and beverage products to children: a systematic review. Obes Rev 14, 960974.
31 Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Gottlieb M, et al. (2014) Children's reaction to depictions of healthy foods in fast-food television advertisements. JAMA Pediatr 168, 422426.
32 Arredondo E, Castaneda D, Elder JP, et al. (2009) Brand name logo recognition of fast food and healthy food among children. J Community Health 34, 7378.
33 Gunnarsdottir I & Thorsdottir I (2010) Should we use popular brands to promote healthy eating among children? Public Health Nutr 13, 20642067.
34 Keller KL, Kuilema LG, Lee N, et al. (2012) The impact of food branding on children's eating behaviour and obesity. Physiol Behav 106, 379386.
35 Batada A, Bruening M, Marchlewicz EH, et al. (2012) Poor nutrition on the menu: children's meals at America's top chain restaurants. Child Obes 8, 251252.
36 McAlister AR & Cornwell BT (2012) Collectible toys as marketing tools: understanding preschool children's responses to foods paired with premiums. J Pub Policy Mark 31, 195205.
37 Kirkpatrick SI, Reedy J, Kahle LL, et al. (2013) Fast-food menu offerings vary in dietary quality, but are consistently poor. Public Health Nutr 17, 924931.
38 Wellard L, Chapman K, Wolfenden L, et al. (2014) Who is responsible for selecting children's fast food meals, and what impact does this have on energy content of the selected meals? Nutr Diet 73, 172177.
39 Murphy AS, Youatt JP, Hoerr SL, et al. (1995) Kindergarten students' food preferences are not consistent with their knowledge of the Dietary Guidelines. J Am Diet Assoc 95, 219223.
40 Gibson EL, Wardle J & Watts CJ (1998) Fruit and vegetable consumption, nutritional knowledge and beliefs in mothers and children. Appetite 31, 205228.
41 Pirouznia M (2001) The influence of nutrition knowledge on eating behavior – the role of grade level. Nutr Food Sci 31, 6266.
42 Bannon K & Schwartz MB (2006) Impact of nutrition messages on children's food choice: Pilot study. Appetite 46, 124129.
43 Dixon HG, Scully ML, Wakefield MA, et al. (2007) The effects of television advertisements for junk food versus nutritious food on children's food attitudes and preferences. Soc Sci Med 65, 13111323.
44 Beaudoin CE, Fernandez C, Wall JL, et al. (2007) Promoting healthy eating and physical activity: short-term effects of a mass media campaign. Am J Prev Med 32, 217223.
45 Dovey TM, Taylor L, Stow R, et al. (2011) Responsiveness to healthy television (TV) food advertisements/commercials is only evident in children under the age of seven with low food neophobia. Appetite 56, 440446.
46 King M (2013) UK fast food market led by McDonald's with over one-third of value sales in 2012. (accessed accessed August 2014).
47 Dodds P, Wolfenden L, Chapman K, et al. (2014) The effect of energy and traffic light labelling on parent and child fast food selection: a randomised controlled trial. Appetite 73, 2330.
48 Cole TJ, Bellizi MC, Flegal KM, et al. (2000) Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey. Br Med J 320, 12401243.
49 Craig R & Mindell J (2012) Health Survey for England. London: The Health and Social Care Information Centre.
50 Berridge KC (2009) ‘Liking’ and ‘wanting’ food rewards: brain substrates and roles in eating disorders. Physiol Behav 97, 537550.
51 Dunford E, Webster J, Barzi F, et al. (2010) Nutrient content of products served by leading Australian fast food chains. Appetite 55, 484489.
52 Robinson TN, Borzekowski DLG, Matheson DM, et al. (2007) Effects of fast food branding on young children's taste preferences. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 161, 792797.
53 Bruce AS, Bruce JM, Black WR, et al. (2013) Branding and a child's brain: an fMRI study of neural responses to logos. Soc Cog Affect Neurosci 9, 118122.
54 Wansink B & Hanks AS (2014) Calorie reductions and within-meal calorie compensation in children's meal combos. Obesity 22, 630632.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Nutrition
  • ISSN: 0007-1145
  • EISSN: 1475-2662
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 234
Total number of PDF views: 626 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1459 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.