Fast food, healthy choices and kids

November 8, 2010 3:08:59 PM PST
Most parents will agree they want their children to eat healthy foods. But are they waging a losing battle when it comes to convincing their children?

A scathing new report about fast food marketing to children was released today. It is the largest study ever on how fast foods are marketed to children.

Some years ago, some of the major fast food companies pledged to present healthier fare for the kids. Yale University researchers went to take a look at how they are doing.

With childhood obesity at epidemic proportions, there is great concern about how America's children are eating.

Parents and schools are urged to be aware of the amount of calories, fat and salt and sugar in their children's diet.

INTERACTION: Do you think fast food restaurants need to offer more healthy alternatives, especially to children?

That's what the researchers at Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity looked at when they examined kid meals at eight fast food chains. Among them: McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and Wendy's.

The researchers found in three-thousand combinations of children's meals examined by the researchers, only 12 of the met the nutritional criteria for pre-school children. Only 15 met the criteria for older children - that is elementary school students.

Researchers say television advertising is aimed right at the kids.

"We found that fast food companies begin targeting children as young as 2 years old. In fact preschoolers see at least 3 ads on television every day," Jennifer Harris, Ph.D, of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy said.

Some of the unhealthy meals are tied to give-aways.

"At first glance, it may seem that this all fun and games. It's a town with Happy Meals, but when you look at the impact on children's well being, it's a serious matter," Harris said.

Even when healthy options were available, like apples or milk, they are not often offered, according to the researchers.

McDonald's told ABC News, "We are proud of our menu and remain committed to offering our customers a wide variety of healthy food and beverage choices that meet their dietary needs and tastes."

"The situation right now is that it is possible to get a healthful meal at a fast food restaurant. You have to go in. You have to know exactly what you're looking for, and you have to take the initiative to ask for it," Marlene B. Schwartz, Ph.D, at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy said.

And that means parents need to do their homework and ask for specific healthful items if they take their children to fast food restaurants. Older children must also be taught.

You can find the entire report at www.fastfoodmarketing.org.


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