Fast Food for Kids: They're Still Marketing and We're Still Buying

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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, thatís not exactly whatís 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. Thatís a 21 percent increase for young children and a 34 percent increase for older children since 2003. ďIn 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 havenít 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 Donaldís says all of their ads feature childrenís foods that meet U.S. dietary guidelines. And perhaps if kids ate only those items, it wouldnít 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. Theyíve never had Mc Donaldís. Their diets arenít perfect, but Iím trying very hard to present an example of healthy eating that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. If weíre unusual because they can identify a lentil but not a Happy Meal, Iím 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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Fast food in our home is VERY VERY rare event. If we decide to take our children out to eat, it won't be McD, Burger King. To me, those are the worst offenders. Granted that any restaurant is no substitution for a home cooked meal but it does give a break to mom. Report
It's simple - if you don't want your children to eat fast food, don't go there. If you don't want your children to ask to go to a fast food restaurant, don't let them watch a bunch of TV. Be responsible for the choices YOU make - they are children and can't get there on their own. Report
Teenagers will eat garbage food no matter what you do and no matter what the school serves in the cafeteria. There's no fighting that, I'm afraid. But now our kids are adults they choose good food. I don't think that's because we served GOOD food at home. (When the kids were at home we had a frozen prepared meal at least once a week.) I think it's because I kept posting articles about healthy eating on the fridge door, kept talking about the specific benefits of good food. They rolled their eyes, but it sunk in. If you do that, even while they're teenagers and young 20-somethings) they do start noticing the way they feel after eating and drinking nutrient-poor food and making the connection. Report
This truely killing our children! Report
We haven't had McDonald's, Burger King, or other such fast food for the past 3 years. My kids are frankly sick of that food, and won't eat there now anyway (all 4 are teenagers). However, do people consider D'Angelo (like Subway), Boston Market, and Panera fast food? If so, then yes, we do eat subs or pizza once a week. Pizza does come from local pizza parlors or Domino's. We emphasize that dining out is not healthy, but we do eat out once or twice on the weekend, too. Not fast food, though. Report
I'm too frugal to spend money on fast food for kids. I have five, who are grown now, but I didn't waste money on that when they were little. Report
If parents knew what was really in "fast foods" they would not eat it themselves let alone feed it to their kids. The only way to control what goes into their bodies is to take control and prepare it yourself even if it is less convenient. The last thing on the advertiser's mind is the health or well being of children. Report
I like this blog!! I hear a lot about fast food places and their menus. I am wondering if anyone has done a study on school lunches prepared at the schools? I know most meats are breaded. I can't eat the meals because of preservatives added to the foods which the schools purchase. (BHT, BHA, MSG, nitrates and nitrites) I noticed children's behaviors change after breakfast and lunch times. Some become sleepy and find it very hard to concentrate on the task at hand while others become very mobile!! The ingredients give me migraines.

I have wondered since, we as a nation, are concerned about our children's health.I know as large as some schools are it would be difficult to prepare meals from scratch. Maybe schools could ask companies they work with if there are any better choices of food or could a line be made of no preservatives and much less starch. Just a thought!! Report
I agree that children rebel against what has been forbidden at home. I didn't like veggies when my children were growing up, they would ask for veggies at meals:) Now they eat healthier than I ever have or will. People make choices, good or bad. Anything forbidden at home will most likely cause rebellious behavior once children become teenagers. Moderation is the key. Report
I think it's the parents who do not know the word "NO".
It's OK sometimes but parents have to set samples and learn it's OK not to give the kids everything they want. Report
I think this one boils down to parents having to be parents. If you want your children to eat healthy foods, YOU have to eat healthy foods. If you want them to have the apples and milk with their happy meal - or for them not to have the happy meal at all - then YOU have to set the example by having apples instead of fries or by NOT going to the fast food places yourself. It's that simple. Report
My kids were never influenced by TV adds. Besides, I'm the one who pays for the food around here. So if they had fast food, it's because I bought it for them. I'm so tired of all the blame games. Parents feed their children. If you buy them fast food, they will eat it. If you don't, they won't eat it. Plain and simple. When they become teenagers, it becomes their responsibility. Just like everything else that they want to try. They are going to do it if they really want to. I see everyday what college students eat. We offer very healthy options at school, but yet, they would rather have the pizza, pasta, desserts, or go downstairs and grab a burger and fries. They are adults. They should know better. Report
People make McDonalds into a treat for their children. How many times have I heard (whilst walking around town) "If you behave, I'll take you to McDonald's". So now wonder they think it's special.

My friend's children are the opposite. That would be like punishment for them. For them a treat has to be real food in a nice restaurant. . . and they're under the age of 10. Even, the 4 year-old eats sushi.

Kids will eat what their parents eat. So from an early age, get them eating good wholesome food. Don't make a fuss out of it. You eat it they'll eat it.

2/3 Report
My kids are both 6 and I allow them to eat McDonalds or Burger King about once every week or two. They eat a hamburger, apple fries (without the caramel sauce), and chocolate milk (which is 2% milkfat). Once in awhile (like once every 3 months), I get french fries for one of them and they share the french fries and the apple fries between them. We talk regularly about making healthy choices and why some foods are only "sometimes" foods, not "every day" foods (like french fries versus apples). I don't want to deprive them because I don't want them to go crazy when they have more freedom to make their own choices. We rarely drink soda, but my son loves seltzer water, so I'm hoping he'll continue to make that choice! They love fruits and vegetables, some meats, and of course some desserts (which they get several times a week). But they prefer sorbet over ice cream, brussel sprouts over chicken nuggets, and have an understanding of the difference between white bread and whole wheat bread. They get some type of exercise every day. I'm hoping this approach will help them to learn about making healthy lifestyle and eating choices, rather than depriving them of foods that will surround them their whole lives. I just hope I'm on the right track. Report

This 11 year old boy, Birke Baehr has enlighted insight on marketing inferior food to kids. Report
Do you really think you are going to keep your children from eating fast food by not feeding them any now? All of you who think so are kidding themselves and don't have teenages and above. I also didn't allow my son to have pop at all and fast food was a rare occasion but gee guess what all that went out the window when they turn into teenagers. My son did not watch the tv since playing Nintendo, etc was more important to him so that didn't entice him. It's his peers and I blame myself since I didn't allow the pop. He drinks way more than what is good for him that is for sure. Now that he has turned 21 he has slowed down some but it helps now that he is in the Marines. Your children are going to break free and I guarantee you they will live on the junk food just for the fact they were deprived of it when they were young. Actually for those that have never allowed junk food in there childs life is in for a rude awakening. In the long run they will get back to the healthy eating but no allowing them the treat of junk food at times will make them rebellious therefore making them junk food addicts. It is sad that your kids don't get some "bad" in there life but since most all the time it is healthy it isn't a "bad" thing. I know parents who have coddled their children and they have been in and out of jail basicly doing the opposite of what you say no too. Don't let your children miss out on a McDonald's birthday party or once every couple month or so indulge on some kind of fast food. If you raised your children right they will grow up and pass on these healthy traits to their own children after they go through their rebellious stage. Please let your kids be kids and not freaks to their peers. Come on parents get your head out of the sand and let your kids have treats once in awhile, before they make it their life style to eat it all the time. Report
The best thing to do is not expose your family to the unhealthy, but the healthy choices only. If the never try it then they won't miss anything at all. Report
I don't have kids yet.
but i am trying to stay healthy, for when the day
comes that i start having a family of my own. Report
Luckily, my children don't see the commericals and want to eat the stuff they show. They are not begging for the fast food and non-healthy foods, so I am fortunate on that front. We do go out to dinner a few times a month, but it is all in moderation. Would love the TVs to show more healthy alternatives, but unfortunately, that is NOT going to happen anytime soon...unless the world changes to ALL healthy. LOL!!! Report
I don't give my kids fast food but once-in-a while. And I have found that when you indulge in healthy foods, kids will tend to try it too. So it is important to do what we preach to our kids - they will follow our lead. Report
When my kids were young I did not take my kids to fast food places and I did not keep soda in the house, soda was just a sometime treat. Report
The bottom line on fast food - it is up to parents to choose what their children eat. If you teach them good choices when they are young, they will continue to make those healthy choices. Don't get me wrong, when my children were little we had those kids meals. But, we also ate dinner together as a family every night. We ate vegetables and fruits. Those are still foods they enjoy as adults. People need to take responsibility for their actions and that is where we fail. Report
I think the real point of this article is that children are watching way too much tv! Children should be playing, doing crafts, coloring, reading, etc.............not in front of the television in order to see these ads in the first place! Responsibility starts at home with the parents, not with the fast food restaurants! It is our jobs as parents to make sure our children are eating healthy and making healthy choices! Report
I think it the responsibility of the parents-- we have so many regulations. It is time to use common sense! It is a rare treat. We often go to Mc Donalds and order the apples for a snack minus the dip. My kids love the way they are cut and do not have skin. Report
We just had fast food last night for dinner...our first time in two months. The kids don't get it, because it's not good for them on a regular basis (okay, really at all). We also can't afford to eat out all the time. I just don't trust anyone else to have my kids' nutritional interests at heart as much as I do.

It doesn't matter what my kids watch on tv anyway - I'm the one in control... Report
My ten-year-old has never eaten at McDonalds, Burger King or the like and in fact has never even had a hamburger. Are we unusual? Yep. And proud of it. :) Report
Fast food should be a very, very rare experience for our children and ourselves. Please read David Kessler's book:"The End Of Overeating" It explains in great detail how the fast food industry and all corporate restaurants use science to overfeed us unhealthy non-food for their profits. Support your local small restaurants.

And cook at home. There are so many fast easy meals that can nourish your children. The food industry is lying when they try to convince us we do not have time to cook natural healthy foods. What better love
can we give our children than to nourish
their growing bodies with the best foods available. Caring for their health is time
My kids have had fast food, but this is very rare for us as we do not eat out very often at all. This is also not the type of food we eat at home, ever. When my oldest daughter (now 13) started kindergarten some of the kids were talking about foods they liked and my daughter asked what a "hot dog" was. People were shocked that she had never had or heard of one before. Top that one with the fact that we do not watch TV at all, and we really start looking like freaks. I think this argument all boils down to personal choices. America is a free country and people are free to make bad choices. There are plenty of people who think the choices I make are bad or strange (including the two I shared above: healthy food, and no TV). I think it is nice that restaurants are offering healtheir options, but this does not mean that this is what is being ordered by consumers. Restaurants are businesses and their bottom line is making money. Offering apple slices instead of french fries with a kids meal seems geared more to the parents anyways. They are the ones who need to instill an appreciation and understanding of healthy eating. For my kids, we eat apples all the time at home, but never eat french fries. So it is fun for them to order french fries when we are at a restaurant, and occasionally eating a small order of fries is NOT going to undo the good nutritional habits we adhere to for all other meals. Balance and moderation are the keys here. And how about slowing down the pace of our busy lifestyles enough to spend time together, eating homecooked meals as a family? Oh, and turning off the TV while the meals are being eaten so people can actually talk to each other and know what is going on in the lives of their loved ones? This issue goes way deeper than what the menu offers. Report
Let McDonald's do what they want! It's not THEIR responsibility to monitor OUR children's eating habits!! I don't eat at McDonald's and my kids won't either, plain and simple. Report
I try to pesuade my kids to make better choices, however my 16 y/o daughter works for Mc Donalds, and while I try to tell her not to eat there all the time, she is 16 and has gainned (alot) weight because of it. It makes me sad for her, but as a teen it is hard to "MAKE" her do what is best. Report
My kids have had fast food, but it's not on a regular basis. I'd say they have it once every two months or so. They never ask for it and the TV they do watch is ad free - Netflix Watch Instantly - so it's not glamorized to them at all. Report
imho, personal responsibility succeeds only when one has sufficient knowledge and is capable of overcoming the corporate snowjob. Report
After watching Jamie Oliver in Texas try to revamp school menus and shows like Super Size me... I think that a major change needs to be made in education and awareness when it comes to Health and Nutrition in our schools... McDonald's isn't the big problem... it's just a symptom of the overall problem. Better awareness at home and at school should be more of a focus than whether McDonald's show cases their healthy options in commercials or offers them at the register! Report
Fast food is a choice. My kids like it and we treat them once in awile. It is not something that they eat everyday. Companies should not be forced to change their menu's because some people feel that fat food or kid's meals cause obesity. My own obesity was not caused by fast food as a child. Heck we rarely at fast food when I was growing up. My obesity was caused by the choices I made both as a child and into adult life. Please stop blaming kid's meals on obesity in America. Report

Fast foods wont exist if we don't support them.!!! Report
Education from the parents discussion with the parents is key to this. If the kids watch too much TV they will see more ads. If parents communicate what is good for them and what is not good they will learn healthy eatting, they may not practice it when they are older but they do learn by example you know. Even young children will learn from discussion with parents about good nutrition. Its exactly the same as educating them that smoking is unhealthy.
Alcohol is un healthy and poor food choices are unhealthy. Not all fast food is unhealthy but PARENTS should educate their children so they learn healthy choices. You can go to any expensive restaurant and buy UNHEALTHY FOOD so why ALL of this picking on the TV or the promotions.
Parents PROMOTE you own values for crying out loud never mind the surveys.
SURVEY your best own interests and that is what you should be teaching your kids to eat. Report
We do fast food a lot less often then we used to, but it took time to train myself to prepare meals to go from home that would last and looking ahead in the schedule. We've come along way (probably only 2x a month vs 2x a week) but still looking to improve.

As far as the healthier options I think knowing that there isn't an extra charge for a side salad instead of fries would be helpful... Report
My kids don't eat much fast food. We live a ways out of town so it is not readily available. Report
I don't think there's anything wrong with treating kids to an occasional fast food fix as long as their diet is usually healthy. The problem begins when parents choose to offer fast food as a staple on the menu. Let's be real - it doesn't matter how much marketing there is - parents are the one's who influence child behavior and allow or don't allow them to consume the food. No one MAKES a parent feed their child fast food. One of my friends has a 6 year old whose favorite meal is steamed salmon with broccoli - because that's the healthy eating she's learning from her parents. She does, indeed, get a happy meal with all the "bad" stuff every couple of weeks and loves it, but she's a normal active happy kid. I've seen her beg to go to a fast food place too, and heard her mom say "no". She lived. This is about personal responsibility! Report
We can't blame the fast food companies and their commercials. The problem is still the parents that are feeding their kids fast food. When I was a kid, all these fast food companies existed and also advertised; however, my parents only took us to get fast food once every-so-often as a treat. It was never a way of life or a normal food. Parents still need to feed their kids healthy food and teach them what food is healthy and what is not. It's okay to have cake and ice cream or fast food once-in-a-while, but parents have to teach their kids that it is not something to eat all of the time and then follow that teaching themselves. Report
My kids very rarely eat fast food with me. However, my daughter's babysitter "treats" the kids to fast food at least once a week. I try to balance it out with healthy meals at home, but she begs for the junk at home, too. Now, I have to "trick" my daughter into eating healthy foods at home -- baked sweet potato fries instead of traditional fries, grilled chicken "nuggets." I try talking to the sitter about it, but she doesn't understand the problem. Report
My kids are very healthy, active, and don't have any issues with their weight. They both enjoy eating fruits and vegetables, and honestly eat healthier than I do. Our family eats fast food 2-4 times a month at the most. I don't have a problem with fast food being marketed to my kids, because ultimately as the parent I'm in charge not my kids! Just because they ask for something doesn't mean that they're going to get it. My kids know that this type of food isn't a healthy choice and that it should only eaten in extreme moderation because my husband and I have taught them this! I don't need a government agency to protect my children from obesity, that's my job. What has happened to common sense? Or personal responsibility? Report
So glad to see this article. It;s so easy to fall into 'fast fooding' that it may be a bit unavoidable living where we do. I think the main issue is to educate them on knowing what is good and the choices they make. My son is on a bit of a sugar binge right now but at 16, I am pleased he will most often make the choice to come home and eat a healthy home cooked meal. He's an athlete and helps keep the focus on 'feeding' the body instead of the feelings! Report
7 years ago I go rid of cable. My son was 5 at the time. It did not take long for him to stop wanting to go to McDonald's and Burger King because he was no longer seeing the ads, and the toys! ..He never was that big on the food. Report
I think it's fine if you watch what's going into their bodies. Fast food should be a treat not a staple food. This is something we're transitioning to in my household. Report
My son does not watch television and movies are a rare treat in my house, that must be why he does not ask for happy meals much. The few times I did get him one he only wanted the toys and never ate the meal. After visiting his grandparents for the summer he came back addicted the fast food and I had to show him what that food really was to get him to back off and curb his appetite for it. After 4 month's he's finally back to eating carrot sticks and celery and making good choices without missing the fast food. Report
My children were never feed fast food but my grand kids eat them . I think fast food is gross Report
I have an idea...don't get your kids started on fast food in the first place...? Teach them while they're young that fast food is garbage. Report
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