Toys could help reduce childhood obesity

McDonald's may add Happy Meals to its all-day breakfast menu - NY ...
McDonald's may add Happy Meals to its all-day breakfast menu - NY Daily News
Including a toy with a healthier meal may help children make better nutritional choices, according to a recent study by University of Arizona researchers.
The study titled “Can a Toy Encourage Lower Calorie Meal Bundle Selection in Children? A Field Experiment on the Reinforcing Effects of Toys on Food Choice” was published in the Public Library of Science Jan. 13.

The study, conducted by Dr. Martin Reimann and University of Arizona Ph.D. student Kristen Lane, aimed to attract children to lower calorie meals by adding a toy.
This was based on the idea that fast-food restaurants often include toys with children’s meals as a way to encourage children to eat there.
Researchers determined that children were less attracted to healthier options when given the choice between low- and high-calorie meals. To attract children to low calorie meals, a toy was included as a substitute.
“Just looking at the data for how often children eat at fast food restaurants, it’s usually children who have a lower socio-economic status that are found eating at fast food restaurants most of the time,” Lane said. “In a perfect world, if this were implemented everywhere, I think it would probably reduce obesity in populations that consume high levels of fast food.”

Related Story: Low-income communities more likely to face childhood obesity

The participants included 109 randomly selected school-aged children, 14 of which were obese and seven were overweight. The students were given money to purchase lunch during the study.
The children were then randomly seated in the cafeteria, and given a piece of paper with meal options from a local McDonald’s. The children were asked to assess their hunger levels on a scale of one to five, one being “not at all hungry” and five being “very hungry.”
The high calorie meal included a McDonald’s cheeseburger, French fries, Strawberry Yoplait Go-Gurt and chocolate milk. The low calorie meal was only the cheeseburger and chocolate milk.

Childhood Obesity - NutriLiving Infographics
Childhood Obesity - NutriLiving Infographics

For the first part of the study, 44 percent of children chose the smaller meal with the toy, as opposed to 3 percent without the toy.
In the second part of the study, 36 percent of the elementary school-aged children chose the small meal with a toy, as opposed to 8 percent without.
Even children with a higher BMI chose smaller meals when presented with a toy.

Related Story: McDonald's is Testing a Happy Meal for Breakfast

“Young kids always go for the toy, because it’s all about a reward,” said Lauren Miller, mother of two.
The study was funded by the Center for Management Innovations in Health Care at the University of Arizona, but it is noted that funders “had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.”
“I think it would be good to have this reach an audience who can do something about it,” Lane said. “My own personal objective was to come up with something that would be impactful policy or business wise, in a way that wouldn’t hurt the business, but that can help the population at large.”

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