The free-toy-with-every-meal marketing strategy is a powerful technique fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s use to lure children in to unhealthy eating habits, according to a study of 100 children and their parents.
The study, published on October 30 in The Journal of Pediatrics, monitored the selection of TV channels chosen by the kids and compared the statistics to the frequency of which the children’s families went to two nationally-recognized fast food chains. Children found to watch stations featuring fast food advertising were considerably more likely to visit the restaurants running the ads.
Researchers compiled a list of all of the nationally-recognized fast food chains that targeted younger demographics in their advertisements. According to Dr. Jennifer A. Emond, 79 percent “of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children’s networks.”
Seventynine percent of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children’s networks.
Researchers asked the parents to divulge information on four points in a questionnaire:
- The frequency of which their children watched the four children’s television networks
- Whether or not their kids requested to visit the fast food chains advertised on these channels
- Whether or not their kids collected toys from the chains
- The frequency of which the family actually visited the restaurants
As a testament to the power of marketing to the young target audience, of the 29 percent of the children involved in the study that collected toys from the restaurants, over 82 percent wanted to go to one or both of the restaurants at some point during the study.
Researchers also found a 37 percent increase in family visits to the two fast food restaurants advertised on children’s television. Overall, 54 percent of the children wanted to go to at least one of the restaurants.
According to U.S. News, variables such as an increased number of televisions in the home, a television in the child’s bedroom, the amount of television watched in a day, and time spent watching the networks that displayed the advertisements targeting children, all had an impact on the children’s desire to visit the fast food establishments.
The findings might not come as a shock to everyone. After all, the purpose of advertising is to promote a product to a specific demographic, and on a kids’ TV channel, that demographic is obviously going to be children.
However, in luring children into their establishment on the premise of toys, fast food restaurants are inadvertently subjecting them to the health risks associated with fast food including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems, all of which worsen as fast food consumption becomes habitual.
News Medical interpreted the findings of the study as an indication that children’s food preferences are subliminally shaped by creating a desire in the children for the toys displayed in fast food ads.
It raises the question of whether or not this type of marketing strategy should be permitted in the first place.
Dr. Emond advises parents to switch to commercial-free television programming to combat the fast food advertisements.