Nav: Home

Kids, cash, and snacks: What motivates a healthier food choice?

August 01, 2017

What determines how children decide to spend their cash on snacks? A new study shows that children's experience with money and their liking of brands influenced purchase decisions - and that for some children, higher prices for unhealthy snacks might motivate healthier choices. The study is published in the journal Appetite.

Besides parents, many actors such as schools, governments and food manufacturers influence and modify the consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor snack food among children through a multitude of venues such as parental guidance and restriction of such foods and snacks available to children at home, school programs (school lunch and vending machines), governmental mandates (taxation, nutrition education campaigns) and marketing messages.

Researchers co-led by Professors Monika Hartmann from the University of Bonn and Sean Cash from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University studied the ways that children aged 8 to 11 use their own disposable income, predominantly an allowance provided by a parent, to purchase snack food on their own. In the study, they report that brand awareness was not necessarily aligned with preference of snack foods. Importantly, the extent of children's experience with money influenced their purchase decisions, suggesting that higher prices for unhealthy snacks might be helpful in motivating at least those children that have experience with money to choose healthier options.

The research took place in after-school programs in the Boston area with a sample of 116 children ages 8 to 11 years. The study consisted of a survey, two cognitive tests, and a discrete choice experiment (DCE). The participants were paid $2.00 each as compensation after completing the cognitive tests that they could then spend in the DCE part of the study.

"We don't know much about how kids spend their cash on snacks," said corresponding author Sean Cash, Ph.D., economist and associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "It's an understudied area. Currently, many children have their own disposable income, usually an allowance. They're deciding how to spend that money on snacks, but we know very little about how they make those decisions." This is especially true with respect to the extent to which children assess typical consumer tradeoffs regarding price and other food attributes.

Cookies, apple slices, or yogurt

The researchers presented a series of snack options to the children - cookies, apple slices, and tubes of yogurt. Each child was presented ten times with pairs of photographs of two snack items that differed by product type, price and brand. Each time they could select one of the two products or decide to make no choice.

The child was told that at the end of the experiment, one choice would be drawn at random from the ten decisions the child made and the child would be obligated to purchase the chosen snack. The child had to pay the stated price of that choice, which ranged between $0.30 and $0.70, from the money previously earned in the study and they received the designated snack. This feature of the design made each choice more realistic for the kids. One group of snacks was from McDonald's in order to test the importance of branding on children's choices.

Experience with money makes a difference

Children made choices based primarily on food types (cookie, apple slices, yogurt). In the experiment, children most often chose the chocolate-chip cookies, with apple slices in second place. Other results were surprising.

"What we found is that brand awareness was not a key factor in purchasing the snacks. What mattered more is a child's like or dislike the brand," said first author Monika Hartmann, Ph.D., who was a visiting scholar at the Friedman School while the study was being conducted. She is based at the Institute of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Bonn.

The other important result was a distinct dichotomy with respect to how price affected the children's purchase decision. Children who were used to receiving an allowance from their parents paid attention to the price, whereas those who had little experience handling money generally did not. This result supports research that suggests experience with cash is an important aspect of learning what prices mean.

"Overall, the literature on children's price responsiveness and brand awareness is scarce," the authors wrote in their article. "The former is especially true for younger children (elementary school)." At the same time, they observed that children spend a considerable amount of money on snacks while childhood incidence of chronic dietary-related disease (type-2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and obesity) is high and increasing around the world.

The authors point out that this is a small study, regionally biased, and with limited choices within the experiment. They suggest further research to explore the efficacy of using price and presentation (e.g., packaging, branding) as additional tools in the fight against the growing incidence of chronic disease among children. Their work was supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) with additional support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
-end-
Additional authors on the study are Ching-Hua Yeh and Stefanie C. Landwehr of the University of Bonn and Anna R. McAlister of Endicott College.

Citation

Hartmann, Monika; Cash, Sean B.; Yeh, Ching-Hua; Landwehr, Stephanie C.; and McAlister Anna R.. Children's purchase behavior in the snack market: Can branding or lower prices motivate healthier choices? Appetite 117 (2017) 247e254. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2017.06.014



About the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University


The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight degree programs - which focus on questions relating to nutrition and chronic diseases, molecular nutrition, agriculture and sustainability, food security, humanitarian assistance, public health nutrition, and food policy and economics - are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy.

About the University of Bonn (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitaet Bonn)

With 37,000 students, the University of Bonn is among the top German research universities. Its wide disciplinary spectrum comprises some 200 degree programs ranging from Agricultural Science to Tibetan Studies. The university was founded in 1818 by Friedrich-Wilhelm III, the Prussian king whose name it bears. Today, the university is proud of a long list of award-winning scientists and scholars. In the last three decades two Bonn professors have received the Nobel Prize: Wolfgang Paul (for Physics, 1989) and Reinhard Selten (for Economics, 1994).

Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus

Related Children Articles:

Do children inherently want to help others?
A new special section of the journal Child Development includes a collection of ten empirical articles and one theoretical article focusing on the predictors, outcomes, and mechanisms related to children's motivations for prosocial actions, such as helping and sharing.
Children need conventional CPR; black and Hispanic children more likely to get Hands-Only
While compressions-only or Hands-Only CPR is as good as conventional CPR for adults, children benefit more from the conventional approach that includes rescue breaths.
Cohen Children's Medical Center study: Children on autism spectrum more likely to wander, disappear
A new study by researchers at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York suggests that more than one-quarter million school-age children with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disorders wander away from adult supervision each year.
The importance of children at play
Research highlights positive strengths in developmental learning for Latino children in low-income households based on their interactive play skills.
Racial disparities in pain children of children with appendicitis in EDs
Black children were less likely to receive any pain medication for moderate pain and less likely to receive opioids for severe pain than white children in a study of racial disparities in the pain management of children with appendicitis in emergency departments, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.
UofL offers vaccine trial for children with relapsed tumors at Kosair Children's Hospital
Children with relapsed tumors and their parents are finding hope in a Phase I research study led by Kenneth G.
Dana-Farber/Boston Children's opens immunotherapy trial for children with leukemia
Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center has joined a clinical trial of immunotherapy for children with relapsed or treatment-resistant acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Children less likely to come to the rescue when others are available
Children as young as 5 years old are less likely to help a person in need when other children are present and available to help, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
IPT for children with anaemia
Researchers from Tanzania and South Africa, who are part of the Cochrane Infectious Disease Group, hosted at LSTM, have conducted an independent review to assess the effect of intermittent preventive antimalarial treatment for children with anaemia living in malaria endemic regions.
Safety first, children
Children are experts at getting into danger. So, how can parents help prevent the consequences?

Related Children Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...