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Preschoolers’ perception of what tastes better can be heavily influenced by the food packaging, if it’s branded by a ubiquitous and food brand’s – in this case, McDonalds’ – according to the findings of a study by a Stanford University researcher, reports the Associated Press.

The study had 3-5-year-olds from low-income families sample foods in taste tests of food wrapped in McDonalds and in umarked wrappers.

Study author Dr. Tom Robinson is quoted as saying kids’ perception of taste was “physically altered by the branding.” Even carrots, milk and apple juice tasted better to the kids if they thought the food was from McDonlad’s.

The study involved 63 low-income children from Head Start centers in San Mateo County, Calif.; only two of the 63 said they’d never eaten at McDonald’s; about one-third ate there at least weekly.

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The 63 children performed a total of 304 individual tasting comparisons. In general, McDonald’s-labeled foods were the inevitable favorites:

  • Almost 77% said McDonald’s-labeled fries tasted better; only 13% preferred the fries in generic packaging.
  • 54% preferred McDonald’s-wrapped carrots, versus 23% pointing to the plain-wrapped sample.
  • Only in the case of hamburgers were the results not clear-cut: 29 kids chose McDonald’s-wrapped burgers; 22 chose unmarked ones.
  • Fewer than one-fourth said both samples of all foods tasted the same.

The researchers found that children with more television sets in their homes and children who ate food from McDonald’s more often were more likely to prefer the taste of foods/drinks if they thought they were from McDonald’s (see figures, below).

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See the article, “Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children’s Taste Preferences,” published in Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine (Vol. 161 No. 8, August 2007).

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