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Healthy Fast Food Ads are Confusing Children [VIDEO]

Update Date: Apr 02, 2014 11:07 AM EDT

Due to the childhood obesity epidemic, fast food restaurants have started to revamp their products to include healthier options. Despite adding healthy foods and advertising about these options, a new study found that food presentation created by these restaurants could be very confusing for young children.

"The fast food industry spends somewhere between $100 to 200 million dollars a year on advertising to children, ads that aim to develop brand awareness and preferences in children who can't even read or write, much less think critically about what is being presented," said study author Dr. James Sargent, the co-director Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center according to Consumer Affairs.

In this study, the researchers asked children between the ages of three and seven to watch stills captured from fast food commercials. The children's task was to identify the types of foods in each frame. The commercials were from Burger King or McDonald's. In one of the stills taken from a Burger King commercial, the apples are packaged like French fries. Only around 10 percent of the children accurately identified the apples whereas the other kids thought that they were fries. The children had an easier time identifying the apple slices in stills taken from McDonald's commercials.

"Burger King's depiction of apple slices as 'Fresh Apple Fries' was misleading to children in the target age range," said Dr. Sargent reported by TIME. "The advertisement would be deceptive by industry standards, yet their self-regulation bodies took no action to address the misleading depiction."

In another two stills, one from Burger King and the other from McDonald's, roughly one-third to one-half of the children could not correctly name the milk product. The researchers concluded that in order for these advertisements to be more effective in encouraging children to eat healthier, they must first be clearer. Children need to be aware of what the actual food choices are so that they can make their decisions better.

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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