In 2010, researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity issued Fast Food FACTS. The report examined the nutritional quality of fast food menus, fast food advertising on TV and the internet, and marketing practices inside restaurants. Researchers found that the industry spent $4.2 billion on advertising to encourage frequent visits by young people to fast food restaurants, targeting children as young as two years old.
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Three years after our first report – using the same methods as the original Fast Food FACTS – this report quantifies changes in the nutritional quality of fast food and how it is marketed to children and teens. These analyses focus on 18 fast food restaurants.
Despite the addition of some healthy kids’ meal options, less than 1% of all kids’ meal combinations – 33 out of 5,427 possible meals — met recommended nutrition standards.
Although the number of regular menu items offered increased dramatically, the proportion of healthy menu items remained the same.
MARKETING TO CHILDREN AND TEENS
In 2012, fast food restaurants spent $4.6 billion in total on all advertising, an 8% increase over 2009. For context, the biggest advertiser, McDonald’s, spent 2.7 times as much to advertise its products as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined.
Older children’s total exposure to fast food TV and internet advertising declined.
Most fast food restaurants stepped up advertising to children, and preschoolers’ exposure to TV advertising did not change.
There were some positive trends in fast food marketing to teens but restaurants continued to target them with TV and internet marketing for primarily unhealthy products.
Fast food marketing via mobile devices and social media popular with teens has grown exponentially.
Fast food restaurants continued to target black and Hispanic youth, who face higher risk for obesity and related diseases.
Over the last three years, there have been some improvements to the nutritional quality of fast food, and to companies’ marketing practices. However, the pace of improvement is slow and unlikely to reduce young people’s overconsumption of high-calorie, nutritionally poor fast food.
Fast food restaurants should do more to improve the nutritional quality of kids’ meals and regular menu items
Fast food restaurants should stop marketing directly to children and teens to encourage consumption of unhealthy fast food.
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