Marketing Burgers and Fries Straight to Kids

Fast food nutrition and advertising to children explored in new report from Yale

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Parents may try to teach their kids about healthy eating, but advertisers for unhealthy foods can also get messages straight to children. A new report out of Yale University explored the state of fast food marketing to kids.

The report examined both the nutrition of fast food in the US and how fast food advertisers reach children.

The study found that hardly any fast food kids' meal options met nutritional standards and that the average child saw several fast food TV ads every day.

"Try rewarding kids with healthy treats instead of sweets."

The report, released by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, analyzed the 2012 marketing of 18 popular restaurants that had national advertising focused on children. The nutritional content of the food from 12 of these restaurants was analyzed in February 2013.

The authors of this report noted that overall, kids' meal options have improved since 2010, with more healthy sides and beverages offered.

Despite these improvements, less than 1 percent of all fast food kids' meal combinations met the recommended national nutrition standards, and only 3 percent of kids' meal combinations met standards set by the fast food industry itself for childhood nutrition.

On the marketing side of things, in 2012 fast food advertising increased 8 percent from 2009. All in all, $4.6 billion was spent in advertising for fast food restaurants in 2012.

"For context, the biggest advertiser, McDonald’s, spent 2.7 times as much to advertise its products ($972 million) as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined ($367 million)," the report explained.

According to the report, the average US preschooler saw 2.8 fast food TV ads every day in 2012. The average child between the ages of 6 and 11 saw 3.2 ads per day, and the average teenager saw 4.8 fast food TV ads every day.

These numbers represented an improvement for children in the 6-to-11 age range, as they saw 10 percent fewer fast food TV ads than they saw in 2009.

The authors of the report expressed concerned that certain groups of children were being targeted with fast food ads.

"Fast food restaurants also continued to target black and Hispanic youth, populations at high risk for obesity and related diseases," the report noted.

According to the report, black children and teens saw an estimated 60 percent more fast food ads than white youth, which may be due to more TV watching. It was also found that Hispanic preschoolers were exposed to 16 percent more fast food TV ads on Spanish-language TV than in 2009.

"It should be noted that fast food menus and marketing practices change continuously," the authors wrote. "The information presented in this report does not include new products or product reformulations, advertising campaigns, website redesigns, or other marketing programs introduced after July 2013."

The report, titled "Fast Food FACTS 2013," was released November 5. Funding for the study was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. No conflicts of interest were reported. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 6, 2013
Last Updated:
November 6, 2013