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Kids Watch Thousands of Hours of Fast Food Advertisements (Almost None of It's Healthy)

Fast food Ad watch: Out of 3,039 likely meal combinations, only about a dozen met nutrition standards the researchers set out for preschoolers.

The United States population is growing—and a lot of that’s happening around the waistline. More than 15 percent of children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite Michelle Obama’s high-profile effort to combat child obesity, San Francisco’s ban on the Happy Meal, marketing extravaganzas for baby carrots, and promises by fast-food companies to offer healthier fare, a big marketing effort targets kids—with the hopes that they'll nag mom and dad for French fries, footlongs, and frappes.

In 2009, fast food advertisers spent more than $4.2 billion on media to draw customers into their restaurants, according to a report released by the Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Which means that, every day, the average preschooler saw about three fast food ads, the average child saw three and a half ads, and the average teen saw close to five ads. That's somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 hours a year.


It's little surprise that most of this advertising lures young customers in for unhealthful foods. Out of 3,039 likely meal combinations, only about a dozen met nutrition standards the researchers set out for preschoolers. In other words, you have to work very hard to get a healthy side-order or drink in a fast-food restaurant.

So, where does that leave us? In The Atlantic, the Rudd Center's Kelly Brownell writes:

Most important is for companies to remove children and teens from the list of groups to be recruited as loyal customers. It seems unlikely that industry will do so voluntarily—there is simply too much money at stake. More weak and ineffective promises from industry will hurt more than help. Charlie Brown kept hoping Lucy would hold the football in place. Government can keep hoping that industry will make meaningful changes, or it can step in.

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What do you think it will take to really combat childhood obesity?

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