RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The fast-food industry may pay lip service to the goal of kids eating healthier meals in their restaurants, but it turns out that the sheer volume of marketing for the chains’ least-nutritious options may overshadow any positive efforts. According to a new study, fast-food companies spent more than 4.2 billion dollars last year on marketing. And they’re marketing to children and teens more than ever: From 2003 to 2009, exposure to fast-food ads on TV increased by 21 percent for preschoolers, 34 percent for children ages 2 to 11, and 39 percent for teens. If kids consumed fast-food only occasionally, this wouldn’t pose such a health concern; but each and every day, a third of American children and adolescents are eating fast food.
The new study, conducted by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, is the most comprehensive evaluation of fast food nutrition and marketing in history. Their key findings? Unhealthy foods and beverages still dominate fast-food restaurant menus, and the chains don’t steer people toward the healthier selections. And the dramatic increase in marketing aimed at kids is very effective: Forty percent of children ages 2 to 11 ask their parents to go to McDonald’s at least once a week, and 15 percent of preschoolers ask to go every day. Not surprisingly, kids’ food choices are affected by exposure to all the ads for foods and beverages targeted to adults. Over 60 percent of fast-food ads viewed by children were for foods other than kid’s meals, and kids are ordering more of these dollar menu items or combo meals than they are kid’s meals.