Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Yale Rudd Center Evaluates Fast Food Nutrition And Marketing To Youth - Did You Buy Fast Food For Your Kids This Week?

Fast Food Harms Young People's Health
OK, this may not be a shock to you but the results of this comprehensive study by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity should be. Here are some of the facts they have uncovered about the fast food industry's relentless marketing to youths and poor level of nutrition. You can read the 200+ page Complete Report on their website.

How Fast Food Companies invest in Getting Your Children Addicted to Fast Food
* The fast food industry spent more than $4.2 billion for marketing in 2009.
* The average preschooler, ages 2-5 years old, saw 2.8 TV ads for fast food every day.
* Children 6-11 years of age saw 3.4 TV ads for fast food every day and teens 12-17 years of age saw 4.7.
* McDonalds's web-based marketing targets children as young as 2 years of age at Ronald.com.
* Each month McDonald's 13 websites attracted 365,000 child visitors and 294,000 teen visitors on average.
* 9 fast food restaurant Facebook pages had more than one million fans as of July, 2010.
* Smartphone apps were available for eight fast food chains so they can reach your children anytime, anywhere.
* The average fast food restaurant had 15 signs promoting specific menu items, but only 4% of them promoted healthy menu items.

And it's Working!
* 84% of parents took their child to a fast food restaurant at least once in the past week; 66% went to McDonalds.
* 40% of parents reported that their child asks to go to McDonald's at least once a week.
* 15% of preschoolers ask to go to McDonald's EVERY DAY!

What they are Serving Your Kids
* Just 12 of 3,039 (less than 1/2 percent!) possible kid's meal combinations from fast food restaurants met nutritional criteria for preschoolers; 15 met nutritional criteria for older children.
* When ordering a kid's meal, restaurant employees at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell automatically served french fries or another unhealthy side dish more than 84% of the time. A healthy beverage was offered less than 50% of the time.
* Subway, on the other hand, offered apple slices, yogurt or 100% juice with their kids' meals 60% of the time, making it the only fast food restaurant in their study to routinely provide healthy choices.
* Teens between 13-18 years of age ordered 800 to 1,100 calories in an average fast food visit.

The Study's Recommendations
* Fast food restaurants must establish meaningful standards for child-targeted marketing.
* Fast food restaurants must do more to develop and promote lower-calorie and more nutritious menu items
* Fast food restaurants must do more to push their lower-calorie and more nutritious menu items inside the restaurants when young people and parents make their final purchase decisions.

What You Can Do!
After looking at this report and their recommendations, I am not very hopeful that this multibillion dollar industry is going to suddenly stop targeting our young children nor are they going to start feeding them healthy meals. Why would they? Their past strategies are paying off handsomely even if it helped cause the significant rise in child and adult obesity.
So it's up to you. Here are some tips to avoid the relentless marketing and the dependency on fast food.
* Restrict or eliminate unaccompanied TV watching. Entertain the kids with thought provoking games and books.
* Too busy to do that, then rent or buy educational videos. At least they're not getting brain washed while you are preoccupied with other chores.
* Talk to them about these fast food companies, their unhealthy food and underhanded marketing tactics. Even my young grandchildren understand how McDonald's should be avoided and tell others not to go there.
* Have some simple meals on hand so when you are too busy to cook, you resist the urge to buy fast food. Remember, even a bowl of healthful cereal and berries or an almond butter and "all fruit" jelly sandwich for dinner is healthier than anything you will find in a fast food restaurant.
* Avoid fast food restaurants at all costs. Even if they have some healthy offerings, once you enter the door, what is the chance you are going to really order them? Who can resist the aroma of french fries or the advertisements plastered all over the walls for unhealthy but tempting meals?
* Develop your child's palate for healthful foods. The most important thing you can do is get them used to eating good, wholesome food. My daughter-in-law helps drive a student garden program at the elementary school. Now, to the utter shock of the parents, the kids go home and ask to eat salads!
* OK, at the risk of getting arrested for promoting child labor, teach your kids how to help fix meals. With my busy career, my kids found their way around the kitchen pretty early in life. Today they are excellent cooks. I'm not saying you should hand them a Ginsu knife, turn on the oven and leave the room. But you can have them help you prepare a salad, or fix their own sandwich. Seriously, it will eventually pay off.

Remember, we vote with our forks. When we spend our hard earned money on fast food, it just propagates this industry putting small, more healthful eating establishments out of business. Make a special effort and help break our youth's addiction to fast food.


Marcia said...

Wow, great post!! I read that 84% of parents took their kids to fast food this week and said NO WAY! then realized that we went to Subway on Saturday. Oops. We go out to eat about once a month as a family. Twice on a bad month.

I prefer healthy places (we got the apple slices at Subway.)

My son does ask for McDonald's. It started at daycare, his little friend eats there a lot. So when my son was 3, he thought McD's was a toy store! It took a lot of work to convince him that it's a restaurant (use the term loosely) that uses toys to lure in kids. And that the food is unhealthy. It's got such cache though!

He's 4.5 now, and has been to McD's 3 times. All times he's gotten fruit and yogurt to eat. Once, the three of us split a kiddie fries (I don't like fast food).

We definitely restrict TV watching, and am getting my son to help with cooking. This week he's helped with washing and tearing lettuce, and shelling lima beans. Tonight he'll help bake pumpkin muffins.

It's a struggle, but you gotta fight the good fight!

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Marcia, you are doing a great job!!! If everyone was as diligent as you are, McD's would be out of business. Keep up the good work!