Fast-food restaurants target U.S. kids, study shows

Mon Nov 8, 2010 4:24pm EST
 
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fast-food restaurants are stepping up efforts to market themselves and unhealthy food products to children and toddlers with television ads, websites and even their own menus, researchers said on Monday.

They said efforts by the industry to regulate itself have failed and urged government officials at all levels to declare children a protected group and stop marketing efforts that are fueling child obesity, a serious U.S. health problem.

"What we found in the marketing data is a staggering amount of fast-food advertising that starts when children are as young as 2 years old," Jennifer Harris, of the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity in Connecticut, told a telephone briefing.

Harris and colleagues spent a year studying 12 big fast-food chains, analyzed the calories, fat, sugar and sodium in menu items and kids' meal combinations, and studied what children and teens ordered.

The report, available at www.fastfoodmarketing.org, finds the industry spent more than $4.2 billion in 2009 on marketing and advertising on television, the Internet, social media sites and mobile applications.

"Despite pledges to improve their marketing practices, fast food companies seem to be stepping up their efforts to target kids," Harris said.

"Today, preschoolers see 21 percent more fast food ads on TV than they saw in 2003, and somewhat older children see 34 percent more."

McDonald's Corp has 13 websites, attracting 365,000 unique child visitors under 12 every month. One, ronald.com, specifically targets preschoolers.   Continued...

 
<p>McDonald's product is pictured in a restaurant in Washington, July 23, 2010. REUTERS/Molly Riley</p>