Wednesday, November 06, 2013

How Big Corporations Target Toddlers To Teens
2013 Yale Rudd Center Study On Fast Food

The Elephant in the Room
Whatever side of the healthcare debate you are on, everyone can agree that we have a health crisis in this country. Obesity and all of its related diseases continue to rise. And while we focus on people's access to doctors and medication, we ignore the elephant in the room. And that is that lots of people, from the time they are toddlers until the day they call 911, eat unhealthy fast food that eventually makes them sick. The money spent by fast food companies to develop these addictive products and the marketing dollars spent to get your family to demand them is staggering. Jennifer Harris and her team at the Rudd Center continue to study and report on this phenomenon.

Update by Yale Rudd Center
Three years ago I reported on a study by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. I wasn't surprised how little fast food restaurants were concerned about providing adequate nutrition to their young customers but I was absolutely astounded when I saw the facts and figures on how these children are being targeted by fast food marketing. Have there been any improvements? The 2013 Fast Food FACTS analyzes 18 fast food restaurants - here are their findings.

Less than 1% of all Kid's Meals Meet Nutritional Standards
Many fast food restaurants have added some token "healthy kid's meal options" but most are in name only. McDonald's idea of increasing the nutritional value of their Happy Meals was to cut the order of fries in half and include a few apple slices. But we all realize that these restaurants are not a place to go for real food. The problem is that America's children continue to beg to visit these establishments. Here's why!

Outrageous Amounts of Marketing Dollars Target Toddlers to Teens
The fast food industry spent $4.6 billion on all advertising in 2012, up 8% since 2009. Much of this advertising targets preschoolers, older children and teens and features the most unhealthy regular menu items.
This latest study revealed:
* Preschoolers saw almost 3 fast food ads per day.
* McDonald's advertised its Happy Meals 31 million times per month. Most of these ads appeared on,,, and other kid's websites.
* Teens are heavily targeted by fast food restaurants like Taco Bell, Sonic, and Startbucks.
* KFC, Subway, and Starbucks more than doubled display advertising on youth websites.
* Black and Hispanic youths, who are at higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, are more heavily targeted. 

Using Social Media to Poison our Children
Six billion fast food ads appeared on Facebook. They are so effective that this industry has exponentially grown their advertising on mobile devices, using things like smartphone apps to offer special deals. And they are effective.I just facebooked McDonald's and they had over 29 million FB likes and Taco Bell's YouTube videos were viewed nearly 14 million times!
  The Big Players
According to Nielsen (2012), 70% of all ads viewed by preschoolers, children, and teens were from six big players.They are:
McDonald's (largest number of ads viewed by children 2 to 5 and 6 to 11)
Yum!Brands, owner of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell (the largest number of ads viewed by teens)
Burger King

Rudd Center's Conclusion and Recommendation
In three years, since their last study, they concluded that there were a few minor improvements made by the fast food industry but nothing significant enough to change the eating habits of our young children who tend to over-consume high-calorie, nutritionally poor fast food.

Jennifer Harris, the lead author of the report and the Rudd Center's director of marketing initiatives feels that these marketing efforts "often take advantage of young people's vulnerability to marketing, making it even tougher for parents to raise healthy children."

The authors would like to see fast food restaurants significantly improve the nutritional value of the menu items offered to children. For example, healthy sides and beverages should automatically come with kid's meals. Healthier menu items should be offered at a reasonable price. 

Numerous specific recommendations are presented on how fast food restaurants should be restricted from their aggressive activities to market their unhealthy menu items to children of all ages. 

Should More Be Done?
The fast food restaurants have done little to self regulate the marketing activities that are contributing to childhood obesity and the illnesses that will likely follow. So it's really up to us to encourage this change. Three methods that come to mind are
* Stop frequenting these establishments or, when you do, purchase the healthier choices so the companies are encouraged to offer these items.
* Congress could pass legislation outlawing the advertising of junk food to children. This is very similar to the ban on cigarette advertising which had a direct impact on reducing the incidence of lung cancer.
* Educate people on the health issues associated with heavy consumption of fast food. This is also similar to when the surgeon general educated the public on the link between smoking  and cancer. Should there be a warning label on each Happy Meal bag of fries?

Yes, everyone should have access to affordable health insurance but people should also have access to affordable healthy food. The idea that a company would spend billions of dollars targeting preschool children, older children, and teens, to eat food that can cause them a lifetime of illness is disgraceful. As the title of my book suggests, Health Begins in the Kitchen, not at the doctor's office, not at your local pharmacy, and certainly not at your nearest fast food restaurant.
To read this important study by the Yale Rudd Center in its entirety, go to

No comments: