[ Watch the Video: Fast Food Ads For Healthier Kids Meals Don’t Send Right Message ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Fast food companies have been making a push over the past few years to include healthier options for their kids’ meals, but that message may not be getting across – especially to the kids themselves.
A new study published on Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that about one-half to one-third of children do not properly identify the healthier milk and apple slices options shown in freeze-framed television advertisements.
In one ad image used in the study, Burger King apple slices were depicted inside an oval container typically used for french fries – and identified as such by kids 90 percent of the time.
“And I see some…are those apples slices?” one child asked the researcher showing her the images.
“I can’t tell you…you just have to say what you think they are,” the researchers replied.
“I think they’re french fries,” the child said.
“Burger King’s depiction of apple slices as ‘Fresh Apple Fries’ was misleading to children in the target age range,” said study author Dr. James Sargent, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at Dartmouth College’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “The advertisement would be deceptive by industry standards, yet their self-regulation bodies took no action to address the misleading depiction.”
The study team said their research, which included 99 children ages 3 to 7 years old, was designed to look at the perception of McDonald’s and Burger King campaigns to advertise apples and milk in their kids’ meals. The team looked at ads from these companies targeted at children from July 2010 through June 2011. In this study, scientists used “freeze frames” of Kids Meals displayed in TV ads that were frequently shown on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and other cable channels that feature children’s programming.
Of the four healthy food depictions examined, only McDonald’s display of apple slices was acknowledged as an apple product by a large majority of the target audience, 52 percent, despite age of the child. The scientists discovered that the other three representations were simply examples of poor communication from the company.
The new study builds on an earlier analysis from the same team, which discovered that McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising highlighted free gifts like toys to cultivate children’s brand awareness for a particular fast food restaurant. These campaigns are developed despite self-imposed directions by the fast food industry designed to deter this practice.
While the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have critical regulatory roles over food labels and advertising, the Better Business Bureau runs a self-regulatory program for children’s advertising. Two distinct programs offer directions to make children’s advertising centered on the food, not toys – and, more explicitly, on foods with significant nutritional value.
“The fast food industry spends somewhere between $100 to 200 million dollars a year on advertising to children, ads that aim to develop brand awareness and preferences in children who can’t even read or write, much less think critically about what is being presented.” Sargent said.