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Study finds fast-food chains targeting children

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SALT LAKE CITY -- It's no surprise that fast food restaurants target children, but a new study shows that children see more fast food ads and eat more fast food than ever before; and it's not good for their health.

84% of parents report taking their child to a fast food restaurant at least once a week. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.

The study looked at 12 of the nation's largest fast-food chains, including McDonald's, Subway, Domino's, KFC. The study, by the Yale Rudd Center, documents the menu items offered in these restaurants and how they are marketed to kids.

The fast-food industry spent more than $4.2 billion on marketing and advertising in 2009 -- on TV, the Internet, social media sites, and mobile applications. Kids took notice, according to researchers.

40% of parents report their children ask to go to McDonald's at least once a week; 15% of preschoolers ask to go every day. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.

Researcher Dr. Jennifer Harris said, "We found fast-food companies begin targeting children as young as 2 years old."

Preschoolers see 21 percent more fast food ads on TV than just six years ago; that's three ads a day. Teenagers see almost five.

Teens, 13-17, purchase 800-1,100 calories in an average fast food meal, roughly half their recommended daily total. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.

Kelly Brownell, Ph.D, with the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said, "Several of the largest fast-food companies have made pledges they would market less to children, but in fact, in the past several years, the amount of fast-food marketing has gone up."

Researchers also examined calories, fat, sugar and sodium in over 2,700 menu items for kids.

How Healthy are fast food meals?
Only 12 of 3,039 possible kids' meal combinations meet nutrition criteria for preschoolers. Only 15 meet nutrition criteria for older children. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.

"We examined more then 3,000 different combinations of kid's meals, and found only 15 met our nutrition criteria for elementary school children, and only 12 that met criteria for preschoolers," Harris said.

Restaurant 2009 ad spend (in millions)

Burger King$281.6
Taco Bell$243.4
Pizza Hut$221.8
Dunkin' Donuts$120.9
Dairy Queen$77.6
The Nielsen Company (2010)

The study also finds:

  • At most fast food joints, a single meal contains at least half of a young person's daily recommended calories, and sodium;
  • At least 30 percent of the calories in food bought by kids comes from sugar and saturated fat;
  • Fast food companies heavily target African American and Hispanic youth. African Americans see at least 50 percent more fast food ads that their white peers.

Researcher Marlene Schwartz said, "I think one of the things that will really surprise parents at this point is how much marketing their children are exposed to when they are not with them?

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Amanda Butterfield


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