Can a Toy Encourage Lower Calorie Meal Bundle Selection in Children? A Field Experiment on the Reinforcing Effects of Toys on Food Choice
The goal of this research was to test whether including an inexpensive nonfood item (toy) with a smaller-sized meal bundle (420 calories), but not with the regular-sized meal bundle version (580 calories), would incentivize children to choose the smaller-sized meal bundle, even among children with overweight and obesity. Logistic regression was used to evaluate the effect in a between-subjects field experiment of a toy on smaller-sized meal choice (here, a binary choice between a smaller-sized or regular-sized meal bundles). A random sample of 109 elementary school children from two schools in the Tucson, Arizona metropolitan area (55 females; Mage = 8.53 years, SDage = 2.14; MBMI = 18.30, SDBMI = 4.42) participated. Children’s height and weight were measured and body-mass-index (BMI) was calculated, adjusting for age and sex. In our sample, 21 children were considered to be either overweight or obese. Logistic regression was used to evaluate the effect of a toy on smaller-sized meal choice. Results revealed that the inclusion of a toy with a smaller-sized meal, but not with the regular-sized version, predicted smaller-sized meal choice (P < .001), suggesting that children can be incentivized to choose less food when such is paired with a toy. BMI neither moderated nor nullified the effect of toy on smaller-sized meal choice (P = .125), suggesting that children with overweight and obesity can also be incentivized to choose less. This article is the first to suggest that fast-food restaurant chains may well utilize toys to motivate children to choose smaller-sized meal bundles. Our findings may be relevant for consumers, health advocates, policy makers, and marketers who would benefit from a strategy that presents healthier, but still desirable, meal bundle options.
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