In grocery aisles all over America, battles are taking place. Well-loved friends like Dora and SpongeBob have children nagging, demanding, and crying for products adorned with their images. With a simple no, parents become the enemy and battle ensues.
Sure they're fun and kids love them, but cartoon characters used in marketing could be contributing to the obesity epidemic and even creating nagging children.
To better understand the media's impact on children's health, a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the "Nag Factor." The "Nag Factor" is the tendency of children, who are bombarded with marketers' messages, to unrelentingly request advertised items.
The results are featured in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Children and Media.
"Clearly, children are not the primary shoppers in the households, so how do child-oriented, low-nutrition foods and beverages enter the homes and diets of young children?" asks Dina Borzekowski, EdD, EdM, MA, senior author of the study and an associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society. "Our study indicates that while overall media use was not associated with nagging, one's familiarity with commercial television characters was significantly associated with overall and specific types of nagging. In addition, mothers cited packaging, characters, and commercials as the three main forces compelling their children to nag."
Among the 64 mothers of children ages three to five years, Borzekowski and colleagues found that nagging seemed to fall into three categories: juvenile nagging, nagging to test boundaries, and manipulative nagging.
"Our study indicates that manipulative nagging and overall nagging increased with age," said Holly Henry, MHS, lead author of the study and a PhD candidate with the Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society. "When it comes to the most commonly cited strategies for dealing with nagging, 36 percent of mothers suggested limiting commercial exposure and 35 percent of mothers suggested simply explaining to children the reasons behind making or not making certain purchases. Giving in was consistently cited as one of the least effective strategies. This unique study offers a platform from which to propose future research and policies to lessen children's repeated requests for advertised items."
Clearly, manufacturers have figured out how to capture the hearts of our children. So, how can parents fill their grocery carts and avoid battle? Consider these tips:
- Educate your children at home about the benefits of healthy foods. Simple explanations that our food choices can help us grow bigger muscles and run faster enable kids to understand the cause and effect of how the food we ingest affects our bodies.
- Give children shopping power. In the produce aisle allow them to pick out a fruit and a vegetable; if they're old enough, allow them to select and bag them. In the cereal aisle, challenge them to find a product that doesn't have sugar in the ingredients. Let them choose the flavor, but not the brand, of yogurt.
- A lot of stores, especially natural products stores, host children's events that allow them to tour the store and learn about nutrition. Or suggest such a field trip at your child's school.
- Cook with your child. If you tell your kid that you won't buy her the frosted cupcakes but will make muffins with her, and ask what kind she'd like to make, you will definitely win.