For most American children, fast food is a regular part of their day. Whether they are eating it or seeing ads for it on T.V., fast food part of the routine. And according to a new survey, children are seeing more ads and are eating it more than ever before. Although the fast food industry has vowed to promote healthier food options to kids, that’s not exactly what’s happening.
According to new research from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, the average preschooler sees three fast food ads per day, while the average teenager sees about five per day. That’s a 21 percent increase for young children and a 34 percent increase for older children since 2003. “In 2006, industry leaders including McDonald's and Burger King entered into a voluntary agreement initiated by the Better Business Bureau to limit the marketing of unhealthy food to kids. They pledged to devote at least 50 percent of ads directed at kids to choices that are considered "better for you."
That agreement sounds like good progress, but things haven’t gone as expected since then. The Rudd Center study found that many of the Happy Meal-type ads show healthier options, but only in the background of the commercial. And when consumers visited a few hundred fast food restaurants as part of the study, 80 percent of the time they were given French fries without even being offered healthier sides like apples.
Mc Donald’s says all of their ads feature children’s foods that meet U.S. dietary guidelines. And perhaps if kids ate only those items, it wouldn’t be such a problem. But another issue is that as they get older, many teens begin ordering from the regular menu, often consuming far more fat and calories than a healthy diet should provide.
I was most astounded to hear this statistic from the survey: 84 percent of parents say their children have eaten fast food within the past 7 days. I know that the way I feed my kids is not the norm. They’ve never had Mc Donald’s. Their diets aren’t perfect, but I’m trying very hard to present an example of healthy eating that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. If we’re unusual because they can identify a lentil but not a Happy Meal, I’m totally fine with that.
Do your children frequently eat fast food? Why or why not? When bombarded by these kinds of ads, what can we do to encourage young people to make healthier food choices?
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