LatinaLista — The notion that the fast food industry partners with families, especially Latino and African American families, to create healthy meal options for children is a half-truth.
A new study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity titled F.A.S.T. Food Facts: Evaluating Fast Food Nutrition and Marketing to Youth, found some disturbing practices in the fast food industry when it comes to targeting youth of all ages and ethnicities.
Most fast food restaurants have at least one healthy side dish and beverage option for a kids’ meal, but the healthy options are rarely offered as the default.
Even though McDonald’s and Burger King show only healthy sides and beverages in child-targeted advertising, the restaurants automatically serve french fries with kids’ meals at least 86% of the time, and soft drinks at least 55% of the time.
And what is perhaps the most grievous practice, and one that shows this nation isn’t any closer to realizing healthy weight goals, is how the fast food industry has renamed their portion sizes.
Companies facing increasing pressure about portion sizes are renaming, rather than eliminating, their biggest sides and drinks. At Burger King, for example, a 42-ounce “King” drink is now the “large” option; the former “large” 32-ounce drink is now a “medium”; the former “medium” 21-ounce drink is now a “small”; and the former “small” 16-ounce drink is now the “value” option.
The report found that food marketers are more interested in building brand loyalty among the youth, rather than necessarily promoting any one food item. What this means is that, regardless of the menu, children will whine to their parents to be taken to fast food outlets, teens will unconsciously gravitate to these same restaurants to meet up with friends and hang out and adults will go there for quick convenience.
Because the industry is building brand loyalty, the more the messaging is heard the more ingrained it becomes. This means that:
Compared with 2007, in 2009 preschoolers saw 21% more ads for McDonald’s, 9% more for Burger King, and 56% more for Subway. Children (ages 6-11) saw 26% more ads for McDonald’s, 10% more for Burger King, and 59% more for Subway.
McDonalds’ 13 websites get 365,000 unique child visitors ages 2-11 and 294,000 unique teen visitors ages 12-17 each month. Targeted marketing for fast food starts as young as age 2 through websites such as McDonalds’ Ronald.com.
Latino children are one of the prime targets of the fast food industry according to the report, worse if they are bilingual.
Nine fast food restaurants advertise on Spanish-language TV. McDonald’s is the most frequent advertiser, accounting for one-quarter of youth exposure to Spanish-language fast food ads.
Some products are more frequently advertised on Spanish-language TV including Domino’s, Burger King, McDonald’s and Sonic’s lunch and dinner menu items.
However, if there is a sliver of a silver lining in fast food marketing towards Latino youth, the report’s researchers found that the messaging in Spanish-language ads more often features physical activity, low-fat/low cal foods and messages that talk about helping the community.
“Our results show that the fast food industry’s promises to market less unhealthy food to young people are not enough,” said study co-author Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., director and co-founder of the Rudd Center. “If they truly wish to be considered partners in public health, fast food restaurants need to drastically reduce the total amount of marketing that children and teens see for fast food and the iconic brands that sell it.”
There is a full website where the report can be found, along with, tools for consumers and researchers. Also, there is an ongoing Twitter conversation about the report’s findings at hashtag #fastfoodfacts