Stop by your local McDonald’s or Burger King today and chances are that a photograph of a salad creation graces the front window. It’s no secret that fast-food chains have been pushing products considered to be more “nutritious” (sugary, fat-filled dressings be damned), spurred in part by increased competition and an uptick in health-focused movements — such as the requirement of posting calorie counts (not to mention the recent WHO report) — across the country. But even with awareness at an all-time high, these chains are still successfully advertising to one of their most vulnerable target demographics: children.
According to the The New York Times, researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University determined that “the more frequently a child viewed commercial TV that featured child-directed fast-food meal advertising, the greater the likelihood their family visited fast-food restaurants that marketed directly to children on TV at the time. In contrast, there was no association between a child’s PBS TV viewing and visit frequency to those restaurants.”
The study also finds that big-name chains are specifically targeting children via commercials through an emphasis on toys (“premiums”) in addition to foods. Even though both McDonald’s and Burger King had agreed to advertise only more healthful products and to cease advertising altogether to children under six years old, it appears that the companies have yet to live up to the pledge (despite a heightened focus on healthier products).
The conclusion drawn by this latest study is simple and straightforward: Despite any and all proactive measures enacted over the past few years, fast-food companies are still finding ways to market to children. Have a TV in your household? Have young children? Chances are that the chains are going to continue to find ways to get their messages across and that it’s still up to us to make the right choices. Like maybe watching more PBS.