Based on evidence discovered by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, children aged under eight are more likely to prefer the taste of a familiar branded product, such as McDonald's, rather than an identical one in unmarked packaging. "Kids don't just ask for food from McDonald's, they actually believe that the chicken nugget they think is from McDonald's tastes better than an identical, unbranded nugget" said Thomas Robinson, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Packard Children's and associate professor of pediatrics and of medicine at the School of Medicine. Robinson highlighted the fact that manufacturers play on the fact that young children are unable to decipher marketing strategies, and do not have the know-how to understand that advertising, product placement and co-branding with popular toys is designed to get them to choose one product over another. "It's really an unfair marketplace out there for young children, it's very clear they cannot understand the persuasive nature of advertising" Robinson said. The research, due to be published in this month's issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, highlighted that the branding effect is strong even to children between three to five years old, findings that will likely further fuel the heated debate aimed at restricting marketing to kids under eight. A key point of the research showed that the number of children affected by marketing strategies directly correlated with the number of television sets present in the home. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire that discovered how many TV sets they had in their house. The children had, on average 2.4 TVs in the house, with more than half having TV sets in their bedrooms. The researchers chose McDonald's, as the company is the largest fast-food advertiser in the US and most study subjects would most likely be familiar with the brand. Robinson pointed out that McDonald's is a company that knows its business in terms of advertising - spending a whopping $1bn per year on US marketing, more than any other company. He went on to highlight the fact that despite parents obviously holding court in terms of actually allowing their children to consume fast-food, the strong force of TV, co-branded toys and their own personal desire for a adult sized meal made it hard to resist. "Parents don't choose for their children to be exposed to this type of marketing," he said. "Parents have a very difficult job. It may seem easier to give in to their child's plea to go to McDonald's than to give in to the many other hundreds of requests they get during a day." The new evidence that children are directly affected by advertising falls in line with recent news from the Federal Trade Commission and the Kaiser Family Foundation that, despite a decrease in TV food advertisements, these are now being more directly targeted to children's television programming. However, in an effort to improve child nutrition - and possibly in response to threatened regulation and lawsuits - McDonald's and nine other top food companies announced the 'Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative'. Participants have pledged their loyalty to devoting half their advertising towards the promotion of healthy foods for kids. But Robinson has his doubts, "I have tremendous trust that the private sector will find a way to offer better products and still make a profit, but we've seen a lot of promises go by the wayside over the years." "No one is going to propose we totally stop industries from promoting their products. But there is a very good argument for regulating and limiting marketing to children."