Marketing may influence how often parents feed their children fast food, according to a new study.
The study, led by Sonya A. Grier, an associate professor of marketing at American University's Kogod School of Business, indicates a need for further research into the effect of fast-food marketing-and food marketing more generally- on the attitudes, social norms and behaviours of members of specific ethnic groups.
In the study, the researchers designed a questionnaire to obtain parents' self-reports of fast-food access, exposure to fast-food promotion, attitudes toward fast food, fast-food social norms and their children's fast food consumption.
The questionnaire was administered to parents of children ages 2 to 12 at eight community health centres in medically underserved areas located on the United States' East Coast and in Puerto Rico.
The questionnaire was administered to parents in the presence of their children and in the parents' preferred language. Children were measured for height and weight.
Parents' reports of greater exposure to fast-food promotion were linked to beliefs that eating fast food is a regular practice of family, friends and others in their communities.
Reports of greater exposure to fast food marketing were also linked to increased fast food intake among children. Additionally, the more parents perceived fast-food consumption as a socially normal behaviour, the more frequently their children ate fast food. This was true among the entire sample, not just members of specific ethnic groups.
Hispanics and African Americans reported being exposed to more fast-food marketing and having greater access to fast food than whites. They also reported significantly more positive attitudes toward fast food than did whites. Asian parents expressed the least normative views of fast food consumption.
The study, titled "Fast-Food Marketing and Children's Fast-Food Consumption: Exploring Parents' Influences in an Ethnically Diverse Sample," is published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.