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Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 11/ 8/2010

Kids get an eyeful of fast-food marketing

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Here are some things I learned from a big new analysis (conducted by researchers at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity) of fast-food restaurants' kid-oriented marketing efforts and their apparent effect on youngsters' fast-food dining habits:

Forty percent of children ages 2 to 11 ask their parents to take them to McDonald's at least once a week, and 15 percent of preschoolers ask to go every single day. (Afp/Getty Images/Karen Bleier)
  • Preschoolers in 2009 saw 21 percent more ads for McDonald's, 9 percent more ads for Burger King, and 56 percent more ads for Subway than they did in 2007.
  • McDonald's has 13 different Web sites, including one aimed at very young children. Each month 365,000 kids ages 2 to 11 and 294,000 teens ages 12 to 17 visit those sites.
  • Most fast-food restaurants that offer healthful alternatives for kids -- sliced apples instead of fries, for instance -- don't offer them up front and continue to serve fries as the default option unless the customer specifically asks for the apples. The one exception was Subway, which routinely includes fruit and milk in its kids' meals.
  • Forty percent of children ages 2 to 11 ask their parents to take them to McDonald's at least once a week, and 15 percent of preschoolers ask to go every single day!
  • 84 percent of parents of children ages 2 to 11 said they'd taken their child to a fast-food restaurant at least once in the past week.

That's just the tip of this iceberg. For instance, 30 percent of parents surveyed thought chicken nuggets -- which are laden with fat and sodium -- were healthful or somewhat healthful choices for their kids. That may be because nuggets are often pictured alongside apple dippers and milk in fast-food ads. You can read more -- including tips for parents who'd like to counter the onslaught of fast-food marketing -- here.

Watch a McDonalds' Happy Meal commercial from 2010:

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | November 8, 2010; 12:01 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health, Kids' health, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity, Parenting  
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It's interesting that of those who participated in the poll, the majority eat fast food "On rare occassions".

Perhaps it's not as big of an issue as the article makes it seem?

Anyone who thinks fast food is a healthy alternative displays an outrageous degree of stupidity.

Posted by: hebe1 | November 8, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

We have to give some of these fast food places credit for adding salads and other healthy items (oatmeal, fruit dippers) to their menu. Wendy's has added an apple/pecan/chicken breast salad to their menu which is really quite good, with iced tea, for a running-around-doing-errands kind of day. You don't have to have burgers and fries when you stop in for a quick meal, and I'm sick to death of fries anyway.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | November 8, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

There isn't a choice between "once a month" and "Once a week". We might go 1-3 times per month, maybe, but on most months it is more likely to be 2 times per month.

Posted by: Rockville6 | November 8, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Oh my gosh that is aweful, just aweful

Posted by: ackebea | November 8, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Oh my gosh that is aweful, just aweful

Posted by: ackebea | November 8, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

That is just aweful

Posted by: ackebea | November 8, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Turn off the babysitter (aka the television.)

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | November 8, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Without reading it - I'd probably believe the Yale study - "84 percent of parents of children ages 2 to 11 said they'd taken their child to a fast-food restaurant at least once in the past week" - before I believed the Post's voting poll (as of 159 votes - 40% "on rare occasion").
One problem might be defining "fast food".
Is it the traditional McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, etc, or does 5 Guys, Baja Fresh, any restaurant take-out count?
It makes a difference. E.g., I wouldn't include Subway in "fast food"...

Posted by: robjdisc | November 8, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

While I understand the need for advertising (after all, McDonald's and other food outlets are legally selling legal products), something I don't understand is why are children as young as 2 years old "visit" those web sites?

I would be the first to suggest (or admit) that "fast food" isn't necessarily the best option just as I recognize that the family dinner table isn't what it used to be; but somewhere along the way it should be up to the parents to teach their children responsibility about what to eat. For some children, right or wrong, eating fast food is better than the alternative of not eating. Maybe a better option than beating on the fast food outlets would be to take away some of the "concern that Johnny or Mary might get hurt if they run or play or touch another person" and bring back "gym" to the school cirruculum; let children play like they used to; encourage them to play; encourage them to be outdoors and run and ride bikes, play baseball or touch or hide and seek, and so on. After all, a heckuva lot of us turned out pretty good eating the things we ate and playing like we did when we were their age.

Posted by: Dungarees | November 8, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Those salads aren't really good options, either. For example, the pecan apple chicken salad mentioned above is 580 calories, 27 grams of fat and doesn't appear particularly filling. You're much better off with their grilled chicken sandwich, 370 calories 7 grams of fat.

Posted by: freckleface | November 8, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a major part of the problem is kids' TV watching. My boys (5 yrs. and 21 mos.) only get to watch TV on Sunday mornings (with the occasional kids' video during the week) and never watch anything other than PBS, Disney Channel or, occasionally, the Discovery or National Geographic channel -- and I don't leave the TV on to regular programming (news, etc.) while they're awake. As a result, they're exposed to very few commercials, and almost no fast food or kid-oriented commercials -- so it doesn't even occur to them to ask for McDonalds, sugary kids' cereals, "Lunchables" or other junk food targeted at kids (although they'll still ask for "dessert" -- they are human, after all!). People can only market to your kids if you provide them with access. And most of these foods/products are advertised during programming that is like the equivalent of junk food for kids' brains, anyway. So you can kill two birds with one stone by limit the amount and controlling the quality of kids' TV viewing.

Posted by: HImom | November 8, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

If I was a parent, I wouldn't admit in any survey that I was one of the people the article was blasting......

Posted by: cfow1 | November 8, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse


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Posted by: goodlucky30 | November 8, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Where are all of the vegan fast food places to eat? Healthier options would include sustainable, plant-based alternatives. I think places like Veggie Grill should be available on every street corner and in every shopping mall. The mindset must be that people need food-on-the-go, but the foods need to be altered, not the habits.

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Posted by: GeriCareFinder | November 9, 2010 2:33 AM | Report abuse

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