CHICAGO (AP) — Anything made by McDonald's tastes better, preschoolers said in a study that powerfully demonstrates how advertising can trick the taste buds of young children.
Even carrots, milk and apple juice tasted better to the children if it was wrapped in the familiar packaging of the Golden Arches.
The study had youngsters sample identical McDonald's foods in name-brand or unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods usually lost the taste test.
"You see a McDonald's label, and kids start salivating," said Diane Levin, a childhood development specialist who campaigns against advertising to children. She had no role in the research.
Miss Levin said it was "the first study I know of that has shown so simply and clearly what's going on with [marketing to] young children."
Study author Dr. Tom Robinson said the youngsters' perception of taste was "physically altered by the branding." The Stanford University researcher said it was remarkable how children so young were already so influenced by advertising.
The study involved 63 low-income children ages 3 to 5 from Head Start centers in San Mateo County, Calif. Dr. Robinson thinks the results would be similar for children from wealthier families.
It comes less than a month after 11 major food and drink companies, including McDonald's, announced new curbs on marketing to children under 12 and will likely stir more debate about the movement to restrict ads to youths.
McDonald's says the only Happy Meals it will promote to younger children will contain fruit and have fewer calories and less fat.
"This is an important subject, and McDonald's has been actively addressing it for quite some time," said company spokesman Walt Riker. "We've always wanted to be part of the solution, and we are providing solutions."