Childhood Obesity, Breakfast Cereal and Whiny Kids

Last week, while shopping for groceries, I happened upon a scene familiar to many parents.

Passing the breakfast cereal aisle, my ears picked up the less-than-angelic tones of a 7 year old child screaming at her mother that she needed a specific brand of cereal and that she would hate her mom forever if she dared to purchase a product not endorsed by the appropriate cartoon character.

Luckily for the little girl’s growing pancreas, her mom didn’t give in to the blackmail.

But, it made me wonder.

  • How many parents would have given in?
  • How many parents would break under the strain of incessant nagging?
  • How many parents would sacrifice their child’s health in return for some peace & quiet?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have recently examined this “Nag Factor”.

Described as “the tendency of children, who are bombarded with marketers’ messages, to unrelentingly request advertised items”, researchers explored whether and how mothers of young children have experienced this phenomenon and their strategies for coping.”

Here’s what they found.

According to study author Dina Borzekowski, “it’s clear that children are not the primary shoppers in the households, so how do child-oriented, low-nutrition foods and beverages enter the homes and diets of young children?

Our study indicates that while overall media use was not associated with nagging, one’s familiarity with commercial television characters was significantly associated with overall and specific types of nagging.

In addition, mothers cited packaging, characters, and commercials as the three main forces compelling their children to nag.”

Using quantitative and qualitative methodologies, researchers interviewed 64 mothers of children ages 3 to 5 years.

Mothers answered questions about the household environment, themselves, their child’s demographics, media use, eating and shopping patterns, and requests for advertised items.

Participants were also asked to describe their experiences and strategies for dealing with the “Nag Factor.” Researchers selected mothers as interview subjects because they are most likely to act as “nutritional gatekeepers” for their household and control the food purchasing and preparation for small children.

They found that nagging seemed to fall into three categories:

  • juvenile nagging,
  • nagging to test boundaries,
  • and manipulative nagging.

Mothers consistently cited 10 strategies for dealing with the nagging; the strategies included:

  • giving in,
  • yelling,
  • ignoring,
  • distracting,
  • staying calm and consistent,
  • avoiding the commercial environment,
  • negotiating and setting rules,
  • allowing alternative items,
  • explaining the reasoning behind choices,
  • and limiting commercial exposure.

And after sifting through all the data, the researchers determined that :

  1. manipulative nagging and overall nagging increased with the age of the child.
  2. 36% of mothers recommended limiting commercial exposure as an effective strategy, while
  3. 35% of mothers suggested simply explaining to children the reasons behind making or not making certain purchases.
  4. Giving in was consistently cited as one of the least effective strategies.


  • Kids are influenced by marketing messages.
  • Kids respond to those marketing messages by emotionally blackmailing their parents
  • Parents who give in to emotional blackmail are making a big mistake.

For the sake of their kid’s health, and their own sanity, parents need to fight back.

Fight back by slapping a household ban on breakfast cereals and other junk foods that use movies & cartoon characters to manipulate our kids.




  1. This is very interesting post! Good point here:”Fight back by slapping a household ban on breakfast cereals and other junk foods that use movies & cartoon characters to manipulate our kids.” I totally agree with you!
    Thank you for sharing this post!

  2. As a nutritionist and author of a book on childhood obesity I can’t agree with your final comments more. A large part of the work I do with parents of children that are overweight is helping them come up with “no brainers” with regard to the truths that promote real health and concrete ways of establishing that as a family heritage. They may feel like salmon swimming upstream in a river of poor quality breakfast cereals, unhealthy snack “foods” and soda pop but they know but they know that they are making the best choices for the health, now and in the future, of their family. Keep up the good work promoting those truths!

  3. Childhood years are considered as the most difficult stage for parents to deal with. Simply kids used to be too picky with their foods. They appreciate hotdogs and fried chicken than stir fry veggies. Most parents do tolerate their kids to nag whenever they want something, but definitely for me the reward system is the best way to let your kids have the foods that they want even just from time to time only.

  4. It’s entirely the parents fault for this phenomenon. If you educate the child properly you’ll avoid further headaches like the one you mentioned in the store.
    I’m not saying to keep the child only on vegetables, but make the sweets something you won’t normally buy. Get on fruits, honey, there are plenty of healthy products that can replace candy, for example.
    When i was a kid we used to eat healthier, but today is like the standards have changed.

  5. […] Obesity, Breakfast Cereal and the Nag Factor Posted on May 18, 2011 by Paulyb Childhood Obesity, Breakfast Cereal and the Nag Factor is a post from: Health and Fitness […]

  6. While reasoning with the child about the nutritional and health effects may be a good approach to explain this to your children, they often can’t (won’t?) see that far in the future – they don’t see themselves as ever being “old”. Another approach that has worked for me is to tell them they are being manipulated, and they need to find their own voice and opinion – not let someone else tell them what they like. Yes, it sometimes works…

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