Are we creating a generation of naggers? New research out of the United States shows a direct correlation between cartoons on food boxes and the amount of pestering parents will receive from their children.
The placement of recognisable cartoons and figures on food boxes, like cereal packets, has been a successful tactic for decades.
According to new research in the Journal of Children and Media, the packaging, characters and commercials all make a difference to the amount of nagging the children will do.
Those children who watched more television advertisements were found to be more likely to nag for products with relatable characters on them, even if they did not like the food, the US ABC reports.
Not only did they nag more, but the kids who watched more TV had more varied forms of nagging – juvenile nagging, nagging to test boundaries and manipulative nagging.
Juvenile nagging consists is the repeated asking for items, whining and even flailing arms and stomping feet.
Children who nagged to test boundaries engaged in public tantrums and putting items in the cart even as their mother refused.
Manipulative nagging consists of sweet talking the mother, or arguing that they needed it because other children had it.
"Our study indicates that manipulative nagging and overall nagging increased with age,"
Holly Henry, a co-author of the study and a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins said in a statement.
Researchers said mothers of 5-year-olds recalled more negative nagging experiences, researchers said.
The research is a timely addition to the debate about advertising junk food to children in Australia, particularly when they are still seeing advertisements for junk food left, right and centre, two years on from the voluntary marketing code against the practice.
The Australian Food and Grocery Council suggested to junk food advertisers in August 2009 that they should stop advertising unhealthy food choices during children’s programs and were also advised that maybe they shouldn’t aim the advertisements at the children.
But new reports have shown ads selling unhealthy food options on television are just as prevalent as they were before the code was introduced.
The number of fast food ads is even higher than it was before the code, and the amount of junk food ads seen on our screens hasn’t wavered.
Is anyone really surprised by this?
Did anyone really expect companies to voluntarily reduce their profits by not advertising their products to some of the most impressionable members of society?
The suggestions, not least from the Australian Medical Association, that the government should step in to ban junk food advertising targeted at children has been met with varying responses.
Some say the government involvement is a necessary measure to protect our children, while others argue the move would further increase the Nanny state Australia exists in.
The US study analysed surveys and interviews from 64 mothers with children between 3 and 5, who were asked questions about family eating and shopping habits, media use and how they dealt with nagging children.
"She picks up the characters by osmosis," one mother who took part in the study said of her 4-year-old daughter.
"It really became clear to me how much TV impacts his preferences when he asked me to go to Burger King and I said, ‘Why Burger King?’ and he replied he had seen it on TV,” another mother with a four year old said.
Co-author of the study Dina Boraekowski, associate professor at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said there is no doubt the advertising tactics work, but companies should be focused on using it more positively.
We know marketing works, so the trick is to make it work for healthier products," she said.
The most successful cartoons used included Dora the Explorer, Elmo, Spongebob and Scooby Doo.
"It’s been a battle with my child," said one mother. "No reward in whining."
"Giving in was consistently cited as one of the least-effective strategies," said Henry.
Almost 40 per cent of mothers said they tried to combat the nagging by limiting their child’s exposure to commercials, which researchers found was the most effective way to limit the nagging and consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks.
They also suggested explaining the marketing ploy to children, by telling them they would be tempted by products when they go shopping, but they may not be healthy.
"I don’t’ think marketing is going away anytime soon, said Borzekowski. "We need to help parents deal with the current situation."
On Monday, the Victorian government announced a Ministry of Food campaign, similar to the one implemented by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, to educate families about food and health.
The initiatives come after new figures revealed on in four Victorian primary school students are overweight or obese.
A $40 million program is being rolled out in key communities to offer families practical advice and classes on healthy eating, grocery shopping and lifestyle choices.
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