Research conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California has suggested that children prefer the taste of food and drinks when they come in McDonald’s rather than unbranded packaging.

The study gave 63 children, aged between three and five, identical food in both McDonald’s and similar but unbranded packaging. A total of 304 individual tasting comparisons were made and the researchers found that on average the children said they preferred the McDonald’s-packaged food.

The branded preferences were observed in children as young three, and researchers said the children even believed milk and carrots tasted better when they thought they had come from McDonald’s.

The study’s authors said the results support the introduction of tighter controls on the marketing and advertising of high-calorie, low-nutrient food to children. Indeed, the publication of this research is likely to provide a considerable boost to the lobby pushing for tougher legislation, not only in the US but elsewhere.

Its publication follows a major self-regulatory initiative launched recently in the US by 11 prominent food companies, including McDonald’s, which saw the companies undertake pledges regarding how and what they market to children.