Can a food logo for an unhealthy food contribute to a child's obesity? Yes, according to research from Michigan State University. The research indicated that the more children are familiar with the logos and images of fast-food restaurants - as well as sodas and unhealthy snack food brands - the more likely they are to be obese or overweight. Another downside - seen in similar studies - is that people who are overweight at a young age tend to stay that way. The findings are published in the recent issue of the journal Appetite.
The research team tested children ages three to five on their knowledge of various brands by showing them pictures of unhealthy food-related logos. They were also shown photos of food items, packaging and cartoon characters. The children were tested on their ability to identify items including golden arches, silly rabbits and a kings crown. They were also asked to match the items with their corresponding brand logos.
The tests revealed that the children who could identify them the most tended to have higher body mass indexes or BMIs. By conducting the study twice, the testing revealed that - with one group - exercise tended to offset the negative effects of too much familiarity with unhealthy food. For the second group, that finding could not be duplicated.
The results varied, which is a good thing, said research team member Anna McAlister, who is also an MSU assistant professor of advertising and public relations. Some kids knew very little about the brands while others knew them exceptionally well. We found the relationship between brand knowledge and BMI to be quite robust. The kids who know most about these brands have higher BMIs.
The inconsistency across studies tells us that physical activity should not be seen as a cure-all in fixing childhood obesity, McAlister continued. Of course we want kids to be active but the results from these studies suggest that physical activity is not the only answer. The consistent relationship between brand knowledge and BMI suggests that limiting advertising exposure might be a step in the right direction too.
Since children receive most of the food messages from television, what causes more harm a sedentary lifestyle brought on by too much time in front of the TV or unhealthy food messages they are bombarded with? From our results, it would suggest that its not the TV time itself, but rather what is learned about these brands, McAlister added. Its probably the developing food knowledge, not the sedentary lifestyle. What were trying to show here is just how young kids are when they develop their theory of food. As early as three years of age kids are developing a sense of what food means to them.
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