New research highlights links betweeen advertising and preschoolers' food brand knowledge

Monday 02 June, 2014. Irish preschool children (3 - 5) who watched more television knew more about unhealthy food and drink brands than healthy brands, according to new research¹ findings by safefood. The research also found that preschool children recognise twice as many unhealthy food and drink brands as healthy ones.

Launching the research, co-author Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden, University College Dublin (UCD) said “The study shows that parents’ eating habits and television viewing are linked to children’s knowledge of unhealthy food brands. These findings suggest that we need to look at the complete marketing environment to all age groups, not just TV advertising. It looks as if marketing effects may be taking place through parents, who choose food for themselves and for their children. The findings also highlight a window of opportunity for educating families and young children in the preschool years.”

“Eating habits, food knowledge and taste preference are formed early in life, and it’s much easier to change things then. Parents eating habits are linked with children’s knowledge about unhealthy foods, so parent education and family interventions are important. Food education in crèches and preschools also needs to be supported creatively. It should include teaching children about what’s not healthy – not just what’s good for them – as they have little understanding of this, yet they have high levels of knowledge about unhealthy food brands”, added co-author Dr Eilis Hennessy, UCD.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said,

The influence of the wider marketing environment needs to be considered as well as the role parents’ play in their children’s food choices. This research reiterates the growing recognition of the need for further restrictions on marketing and advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar. In tackling childhood obesity and poor nutrition in children, we need to recognise the role of media channels aimed at children which advertise these foods such as the internet, online gaming and text messaging.”

The research, carried out by University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast involved over 170 children aged 3-5 who were shown logos for 9 food and drink brands, both healthy and unhealthy. Children were shown logos for the brands, asked to name it, explain what it was, and match the logo to a picture of the food or drink.

An abstract of this research paper is available to view online at Appetite (2014).

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact

Dermot Moriarty / Julie Carroll, safefood

Tel: 01 448 0600 / 086 381 1034 (Dermot) /

Muireann Kirby, WHPR

Tel: 01 669 0030 / 086 3710000


¹“Young children's food brand knowledge. Early development and associations with television viewing and parent's diet”. Mimi Tatlow-Golden & Eilis Hennessy (University College Dublin) Moira Dean & Lynsey Hollywood (Queen’s University Belfast)

Key Findings

  • Preschool children recognise twice as many widely advertised unhealthy brands as widely advertised healthier brands
  • This is even though brands are advertised at similar levels on television to children of this age group
  • Children’s food knowledge develops before they understand which foods are not healthy