Kids Who Recognize Fast-Food Logos Are More Likely to Be Fat

New research shows a disturbing link between fast-food brand awareness and childhood obesity.


Kids who easily recognize McDonald’s golden arches, Wendy’s signature red pigtails and other not-so-healthy food brands are more likely to be overweight.

That’s the alarming link detailed in a new study by researchers at Michigan State University. According to PsychCentral.org, researchers tested children (ages 3 to 5) on their knowledge of various brands and the foods they represent.

“We found the relationship between brand knowledge and [body mass index] to be quite robust,” said Anna McAlister, Ph.D., an MSU assistant professor.

“The kids who know most about these brands have higher BMIs.”

The study also indicates that regular exercising is not always adequate to offset unhealthy food choices, Phys.org said. Lead study author T. Bettina Cornwell said:

“Our two studies in this research support thinking that children have a ‘first language’ of food that is hard to change,” she said. “When a preschooler’s first language is replete with branded foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, it is linked in both studies to being overweight or obese. Unhealthy childhood weight then sets a hard-to-change trajectory to a lifetime of fighting off obesity.”

Parents can shape their children’s taste preferences early on, encouraging them to eat foods with reduced levels of fat, salt and sugar, Phys.org said.

But kids get a lot of their food knowledge from television, PsychCentral said. In fact, the marketing of unhealthy foods that children see on TV may actually be more harmful than the sedentary lifestyle watching TV can create. “The consistent relationship between brand knowledge and BMI suggests that limiting advertising exposure might be a step in the right direction too,” McAlister said.

According to TakePart.com, Cornwell said kids who have high brand knowledge typically favor foods that are high in unhealthy fat, sugar and salt.

“What kind of consumption patterns are we developing for a child?” she asks. “If a ‘first language’ is fruit and vegetables, that first language is what they come to expect, like, and ask for. If it is processed food — sugar, salt, and fat — that will be what they are expecting.”

I couldn’t agree more. My 4-year-old lives on fruits and veggies, including foods that lots of kids won’t eat, like: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, avocado, grape tomatoes and jicama. If given a choice between a cookie and a bowl of blueberries, she’d pick the berries every time.

I made my kids’ baby food with whole foods – no extra seasonings or anything else. So they didn’t get a taste for sugar and salt and other unhealthy additives. I think it has made a difference in how my 4-year-old chooses to eat today. My 1-year-old eats whatever I put on his highchair tray.

Are you surprised that fast-food brand recognition can be linked to childhood obesity? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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