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Fast food marketing targets children

As part of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, many of the nation's largest food and drink companies agreed to use advertising to encourage healthier choices for childrens' food.

According to a new study Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 99 percent of all fast food advertisements targeting children came from either McDonald's or Burger King. McDonald's in particular spent more than 70 percent of its ads appealing to children by advertising their kid-friendly Happy Meal.

The food, however, is not the focus in these ads.

“Images of food take up a paltry 20 percent of the television screen on average,” Patrick Moore at Diets in Review wrote. “Instead, McDonald’s and Burger King choose to highlight their storefronts, play rooms, movie trailers and tie-ins, and kid’s meal toys. The most prevalent words used in ads geared toward kids are toys, movies, and movie characters.”

It makes sense that the companies would focus on anything but the food, since, as Moore puts it:

“Side note: A 3.3oz serving of McDonald’s eggs, which should be one of their healthiest menu items, contains 20 ingredients and 173 percent of your daily cholesterol intake.”

Furthermore, kids who are already overweight and obese are the most likely to be influenced, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed.

Young people were more receptive to TV advertising if they are having a snack while watching.

“A national sample of 2,541 participants between 15 and 23 years old were surveyed for the study,” an article in Science Daily said. “Respondents viewed a random subset of 20 advertisement frames (with brand names removed) selected from national TV fast-food restaurant advertisements and were then asked if they had seen the advertisement, if they liked it, and if they could name the brand. A TV fast-food advertising receptivity score (a measure of exposure and response) was assigned. Youth with higher receptivity scores were more likely to have obesity than those with lower scores.”

According to the CDC, 18 percent of children in the United States aged 6-11 were considered obese in 2010. The numbers continue to grow. To combat the problem, McDonald's has slowly been changing the ingredients and methods for their food to create healthier options.

An article by Homa Bash in the Medill Reports Chicago said there would be a big push by McDonalds to make their food healthier.

“Most of those changes are geared toward children – the promotion and marketing of only water, milk and juice in Happy Meals, packaging changes to 'generate excitement for fruit, vegetable, low/reduced-fat dairy or water options for kids' and 100 percent of advertising directed at children to contain fun nutrition messages,” Bash wrote.