How Kids Get Moms To Buy Unhealthy Foods

A group of scientists, who seem to have never spent time with young children, conducted a study to find out why parents end up buying junk food even if they know it's bad for their kids. Apparently there's this thing called "nagging" and children are quite adept at using it to get Lucky Charms into the shopping cart.

To be fair, the researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health did identify nagging as the main reason parents buy food with little nutritional value for their kids, but it's still amusing that the press release states they "explored whether and how mothers of young children have experienced this phenomenon." We'd be very interested in meeting the kid who's never uttered some variation of the words, "Mommy, buy me that."

Even if the behavior is ubiquitous, it's still interesting to learn what makes tiny naggers tick. Senior author Dina Borzekowski says:

"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."

Their whining fell into three categories: juvenile nagging, nagging to test boundaries, and manipulative nagging. Unsurprisingly, as kids aged they nagged even more, and their methods grew more manipulative.

The 64 mothers of children ages 3 to 5 identified 10 different strategies for dealing with their kids' begging and pleading. These include "giving in, yelling, ignoring, distracting, staying calm and consistent, avoiding the commercial environment, negotiating and setting rules, allowing alternative items, explaining the reasoning behind choices, and limiting commercial exposure." Limiting exposure to ads and explaining to children why they weren't buying the item were the most popular strategies. As someone who's never eaten a Lunchable, I'll say that explaining they're full of preservatives may stop the nagging temporarily, but the pain of being deprived of tiny lunchmeat on a cracker lasts forever.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that the best way to reduce nagging for junk food is to limit the amount of ads for unhealthy items. Of course, there's no way food manufacturers will go along with this, so parents can look forward to plenty of whining in the future.

The Nag Factor: How Do Children Convince Their Parents To Buy Unhealthy Foods? [EurekAlert]

Image via Nagy-Bagoly Arpad/Shutterstock.