Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Fast food restaurants in middle-income, rural or black-majority neighborhoods are more likely to target kids with in-store marketing compared to restaurants in high-income, urban or white-majority neighborhoods, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
“Fast food companies in the U.S. spend nearly a quarter of their marketing budgets targeting youth aged 2 to 17 years,” said study author Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, an associate professor of nutrition at Arizona State University. “In 2009, fast food restaurants spent more than $700 million to market their products to children and adolescents; nearly half of the amount went toward premiums such as kids’ meal toys.”
In the study, researchers looked at more than 6,700 fast food restaurants – both chain locations and independently-owned. The restaurants were picked from a nationwide sample of more than 430 areas where middle and high school kids live. Local community information was acquired at the block level and included data concerning median home income, ethnicity and amount of urbanization.
The researchers divided aspects of youth-aimed marketing into discrete categories. Marketing methods on the interior consisted of indoor play places and displays of kids’ meal toys. Youth-directed marketing steps on the outside of the restaurants noticeable from the parking lot or street included ads with cartoon characters; figures from movies, TV or sports; and ads for kids’ meal toys and others.
The study found that 20 percent of restaurants it examined used one or more tactics targeting children. The indoor exhibition of kids’ meal toys was the most widely used, followed by exterior advertisements with cartoon characters, in addition to ads with kids’ meal toys. Chain restaurants were nine times more likely of having a kids’ meal toy visible on the inside, while fast food restaurants in majority-black neighborhoods had nearly twice the odds of having this kind of displays as opposed to those in majority-white neighborhoods.
“Marketing food to children is of great concern not only because it affects their current consumption patterns, but also because it may affect their taste and preferences,” Ohri-Vachaspati said. “We know that consumption of fast food in children may lead to obesity or poorer health, and that low income and minority children eat fast food more often.”
The Arizona researcher noted that multiple fast food chain have taken steps toward pushing the marketing of healthier food to children, but added that more can be done.
“Despite the self-regulatory efforts, a stronger push for providing and marketing only healthy foods to children is needed, especially in disadvantaged populations,” she said. “We want to make it easier for parents and children, especially those at greater risk for poor diet and health, to make healthier choices by marketing only healthy food options that meet dietary guidelines to children.”
“Another goal of the study is to track patterns,” Ohri-Vachaspati said. “As marketing strategies targeting children in media are restricted as part of self-regulation, an increase in such efforts may or may not occur at restaurants. We’d like to present evidence to inform future industry and public policy initiatives.”