A University of Iowa professor and his son asked a series of questions of a group of seven-year-olds and one of their parents to gauge their interest in healthy food. Irwin Levin, a psychology professor at the University of Iowa, says parents seemed to be weighing whether their kids would refuse to eat some foods.
“I think the most unusual finding of that study was that the parents — even though they were for health foods for their kids — they were less inclined to opt for healthy foods for their kids and for themselves, sort of thinking, ‘Hmm, you know, if we get just what we want for the kids, they won’t eat it anyway,'” Levin says.
Levin and his son, who is a marketing professor at Northern Kentucky University, showed picture-cards to a group of 43 seven-year-old children and one of their parents — usually the mother. The study found a high level of brand loyalty among the parents, and the kids.
“Brand names have a powerful effect,” Levin says. “It’s not surprising with adults, but it’s more surprising with children.”
The kids indicated how they’d feel if their parents bought a particular product and the parents indicated whether they’d be likely to buy the product for themselves and for their kids. The father-son research team found boys were 20% more likely to give a high rating to an unhealthy food, while girls were 20% more likely to give a higher rating to healthy foods. Levin says he’s seen that phenomenon with his own kids and grandkids.
“You know, fairly soon on we know that our kids have pretty strong individualized tastes and they may not be the healthiest tastes and we can to change them, but there’s only a certain amount we can do,” Levin says. “To a certain extent, we (parents) just sort of give in to what we think our kids want.” Levin and his son published their study in the September issue of the Journal of Consumer Behaviour. Their work was financed with a grant from the National Science Foundation to find out how children make decisions about food.