Fast Food Companies Target Children

By: Dr. Katy Roberts, EdD, MPH, MCHES

Advertisements for unhealthy food products are everywhere and children and teens continue to be a main target audience. Television is still where you will find the most fast food advertising; however there has been a rise in advertising through mobile devices and social media, which are popular with young people. More fast food advertisements than ever before are appearing on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and kids’ websites. There are even fast food mobile apps available that offer special deals and games, called “advergame” which prominently features the company’s products and reinforces the brand.

The latest report by Yale Rudd Center found that the fast food industry has increased its spending on advertisements, up 8% from 2009, to $4.6 billion a year to advertise mostly unhealthy products. Every day on television, preschoolers view, on average, 2.8 ads, children view 3.2 ads, and teens view 4.8 ads for fast food. The problem is that advertising is effective, with research showing that children exposed to fast food advertising are more likely to consume fast food and have increased weight. Advertisements targeting children encourages consumption of nutritionally poor items and contribute to poor diet and obesity among young people.

So what can we do? We can learn more about the issue and support public health initiatives that advocate fast food restaurants stop marketing to children, stop advergame apps, and increase the number of healthier items as well as provide healthier options in kids’ meals (instead of French fries, provide fruit; instead of soda, provide water). We can limit our children’s television viewing and not allow advergame apps. In addition, we can teach children media literacy skills. One way to do this is to encourage children to critically analyze advertisements. Just like in the Ironwill Kids program, we can discuss the tricks that food companies use to get kids to buy their products, ultimately spending money on food that isn’t good for them or the environment. Some of these tricks include the use of food stylists to make products look amazing in ads, endorsements by celebrities who tell kids how great these products are, and the promotion of toys and games as incentives. If instead, ads were created that told the truth about what was really in fast food meals and where the ingredients came from, as well as the consequences of eating fast foods, we would be clamoring for healthier options such as fruits and vegetables, which come from a farm and have only one ingredient.

For more on fast food marketing to children and teens see: