Experts push for toy giveaways
to be banned from unhealthy food
New research from Cancer Council
Victoria has revealed what food companies have known for decades – that supplying
movie character toys with fast food has an enormous impact on what Aussie kids
want to eat.
The study involving more than 900 Australian
children aged 5–9 years found that when a movie character toy was offered with
a fast food meal, children were more likely to want that meal, regardless of
what the meal consisted of.
Cancer Council Victoria's Senior
Research Fellow and lead author of the study, Dr Helen Dixon, said the findings
highlight what the food industry has known for a long time – that offering toys
with food products drives children's food preferences.
"Movie tie-ins and free character toys are
powerful tools used by fast food chains and food manufacturers to attract kids – and our research really captures the enormous impact this approach has," Dr
"The children in our study were more
likely to choose a meal if it was tied to a free movie character toy."
Dr Dixon said the heavy marketing of
energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and drinks is a known contributor to
overweight and obesity and poor diets, and children are particularly
susceptible to its influence.
"Marketing could be put to better use
promoting healthier foods to kids. We
found that when a healthier meal was offered with a character toy, children reported
they'd be more likely to ask their parents for that meal. Children believed the
meal with the toy looked better, would taste better, and that they would feel
happier if their parents bought them the meal," Dr Dixon said.
"Given the pester power parents face
from their children, restricting toy premiums to healthy foods would harness
this persuasive technique to support
rather than undermine parent's efforts to help their kids achieve a healthy
Obesity Policy Coalition Executive
Manager Jane Martin said restricting the use of movie tie-ins and toy giveaways to
healthier products would be a positive step in working to improve children's
"On average, unhealthy foods contribute as much as 41 per
cent of daily energy intake for Australian school-aged children .
The food industry should not be using any tactics which further encourage
children to want to eat unhealthy food, such as offering free toys or
cross-promoting unhealthy meals with popular kids' movies," Ms Martin said.
"The World Health Organization is concerned about the power
of free toys in promoting unhealthy foods and drinks to children .
In the US, San Francisco and Santa Clara County in California have banned
restaurants from providing toy incentives with children's meals that don't meet set nutritional standards for healthy
"At a time when one in four Australian children are
overweight or obese, we strongly encourage government to introduce policies to restrict
food companies from offering toys and other child-oriented giveaways with unhealthy
food and drinks."
the research: The research, published in Appetite journal online involved 904 grade 1
and 2 students (aged 5–9 years) from Melbourne. The students were shown a short
promotional trailer for children's movie, How
to Train Your Dragon 2, followed by either its associated McDonald's Happy
Meal® advertisement or an advertisement for a children's leisure activity.
Participants were then shown four meal options (two unhealthy and two healthier
meals). For kids shown the Happy Meal
ad, we systematically varied whether the healthier and/or unhealthy meals were
accompanied by free movie character toys. From the set of meals shown, kids
were asked to choose which meal they would most like to have. They then completed
detailed ratings of their preferred unhealthy and healthier meal respectively.
- Australian Health Survey:
Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12
- World Health Organization. (2010). Set of recommendations on the
marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. Geneva,
Switzerland: World Health Organization.
- World Cancer Research Fund NOURISHING framework