New Study Shows How Fast Food Ads Target Kids

bullseyeFast food restaurants, particularly well-known giants McDonald’s and Burger King, have faced significant backlash from educators, parents, lawmakers, and interest groups who believe that their food is the cause of rising obesity rates and health problems in children across the country. A new study has found that these fast food chains target children in their advertisements by using toys and other appealing factors such as food packaging to entice children into wanting a product that has no nutritional value and could cause them future health issues. Despite the results of this study, McDonald’s and Burger King argue that they have improved.

The Study

The study, conducted by Plos One, first found that almost 99% of all fast food ads that targeted children came from either Burger King or McDonald’s, with Burger King at 29% and McDonald’s at 70%. 79% of their ads were aired on four popular networks for children: Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Cartoon Network, and Disney XD. While ads targeting adults focused on food, kids’ ads focused on the brand. 88% of children’s ads had images of food packaging compared with 23% of adult’s ads. 69% of children’s ads promoted toys compared to 1% of adults’, and 55% of children’s ads referenced movies compared to 14% of adults’.

Overall, the researchers determined that ads from McDonald’s and Burger King do not meet the guidelines set by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU). While both companies agreed to these advertising standards as members of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), CARU states that the food should be the focus of ads targeting children, and promotions such as toys should not be used because they can confuse children. However, CARU responded by stating that the companies are compliant with their guidelines; they focus on healthy food and take down ads that are challenged by CARU.

The Response

In response to the study, not only has CARU denied the conclusions against McDonald’s and Burger King, but the two chains have responded stating that their advertising behavior has changed since the data was collected. The study focused on ads airing from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, and both companies state that their practices have improved due to their work with CARU and CFBAI. Furthermore, McDonald’s has stated that their current advertising is much more focused on nutrition, balanced choices, and a healthy lifestyle. McDonald’s has indeed made changes, with more nutritious Happy Meal choices for kids.

Do you think that targeting kids with fast food ads is ethical?

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Elizabeth K

Elizabeth Kent is a recent graduate with an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Brandeis University. She earned her B.A. from Smith College with a major in the Study of Women and Gender and a minor in Jewish Studies. Elizabeth recently relocated from the Boston area back to Western Massachusetts, where she spends her free time volunteering with a local non-profit organization. Elizabeth has worked as a writing tutor, archival intern, research assistant, and retail associate. Her interests include studying pop culture, kittens, and making meals with as little cooking as possible.

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