Report: Fast food ads target youth

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse | 11/16/2010, 6:30 p.m.

Although McDonald’s and Burger King, the industry’s two largest fast food marketers, joined the Children’s Food and Beverage Initiative and pledged to limit its depiction of unhealthy foods in advertising to children, the report demonstrates the ineffectiveness of this promise.

For instance, while these two franchises show healthy sides and beverages in their advertising to kids, inside their restaurants, they automatically serve french fries and soda with kids’ meals 86 and 55 percent of the time.

In addition, a large number of McDonald’s and Burger King ads do not even feature the healthy food they promised to show — their ads instead focus on toy giveaways or building brand loyalty. And despite these pledges to reform, both restaurants increased television advertising significantly since 2007.

Fast food restaurants have also expanded their marketing tactics beyond television and radio to include websites, Facebook, Twitter, text messages.

But it is not marketing alone that is dangerous to children. As the report showed, when visiting a fast food restaurant, children consume up to 200 calories more than the recommended limits for lunch and dinner, and teens consume up to 700 calories beyond dietary recommendations for these meals. While these excess calories would not pose a health threat if consumed infrequently, one third of American youth, between ages 2 and 17, eat fast food every day.

“While all this consumption is good for fast food companies’ bottom line, it is terrible for young people’s health,” the report stated.

“Our results show that the fast food industry’s promises to market less unhealthy food to young people are not enough,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Kelly Brownell, who is also director and co-founder of the Rudd Center.

“If they truly wish to be considered partners in public health, fast food restaurants need to drastically reduce the total amount of marketing that children and teens see for fast food and the iconic brands that sell it.”

The entire report can be found at: http://www.fastfoodmarketing.org/media/FastFoodFACTS_Report.pdf.