Young Children Misidentify Foods in Fast Food Ads Aimed At Kids Interview with
James D. Sargent, MD, Professor of Pediatrics
Professor of Community and Family Medicine
Professor of The Dartmouth Institute
Co-Director, Cancer Control Research Program
Norris Cotton Cancer Center Norris Cotton Cancer Center,
Department of Pediatrics
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
Lebanon, New Hampshire What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Sargent: We showed children aged 3-7 years depictions of healthy foods in McDonald’s and Burger King television advertisements that aired in 2010-11.  Children were asked what they saw in the images and not prompted to respond specifically to any aspect of the images.  All images contained the two healthy foods—apples and milk—the companies purported to be advertising through the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.  Only 52% and 70% of children correctly identified McDonald’s and Burger King images of milk.  Whereas 80% correctly identified McDonald’s image of apples, only 10% identified the Burger King apples as apples.  Instead, 81% mistook them as french fries.

Please see the video of children responding to the BK apples depiction at Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Sargent: The findings were not unexpected. Companies who choose to advertise to children in this age range need to be very explicit in the identification of their products. Since many are pre-literate, they should name the healthy foods in the audio track.

It was surprising to us that the deceptive depictions of Burger King Apple Fries was not identified as such by the Better Business Bureau, which has a self-regulatory program, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, that is supposed to screen all children’s ads for deception.  The deceptive image of Burger King apples aired in multiple ads for at least one year. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Sargent:  Parents should know that their children are exposed to hundreds of potentially misleading food ads while watching network and cable programming on channels like Nickelodeon.  These ads are designed to influence what products they nag you for.  Most advertised food products energy dense and may contribute to obesity.  Parents should steer their young children away from programming on channels like Nickelodeon and toward advertising-free venues, like public television and Netflix. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Sargent:  There should be ongoing evaluations of children’s advertising conducted by truly independent groups in which actual children in the target range are shown the ads.  Ads for which children cannot accurately identify the product being sold, or ads that place too much emphasis on toy premiums or tie-ins should not be allowed to air.


Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Gottlieb M, Emond J, Sargent JD. Children’s Reaction to Depictions of Healthy Foods in Fast-Food Television Advertisements. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;():. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.140.

—————————————————————- Editor’s Note:

Here’s the current picture of BK Apple Fries from the Burger King Site March 31 2014

BK Apple Fries March 31 2014

Last Updated on October 18, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD