Kids love Golden Arches

If you thought your preschoolers were too young and naive to be susceptible to advertising, think again. A recent study shows just how powerful advertising can be in luring young customers.

The study also showed just how effective McDonald's has been in hawking its products. The study, conducted by Stanford University researchers, set out to find if brand identification really affected the preferences of young children.

Boy, did it ever! Youngsters sampled identical McDonald's foods in name-brand and unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test.

In fact, when researchers did the same test with generic milk, juice and carrots, a majority of the children still chose the food in McDonald wrappers or cups.

The major food brands no doubt already are well aware of how effective their advertising can be. A number of them have voluntarily agreed to limit their marketing to children under 12. McDonald's, for example, said the only Happy Meals it will promote to young children will contain fruit and will have fewer calories and less fat.

Despite these voluntary efforts, some groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, urge mandatory limits on marketing to children. That might be hard to police, but this study indicates the vulnerability of children to slick ads.

Meanwhile, parents clearly need to begin educating their children about nutrition at an early age. The more they know, the less susceptible they will be to come-ons from the food industry.

If you don't tell your children about good food, someone else will. And it's likely to be Ronald McDonald.

Study indicates just how vulnerable young children can be to slick food industry ads.