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Dartmouth researchers say focus in fast food ads is still on toys, not food

Union Leader Correspondent

September 03. 2013 8:00PM

LEBANON — Dartmouth researchers say during a one-year study period fast food TV commercials aimed at children 2 to 11-years-old did not comply with self-imposed guidelines organized through the Better Business Bureau, according to a study published last week.

“A lot of the focus up to now has been the nutritional content of the food that appears in children’s commercials,” said principal investigator Jim Sargent, a doctor and co-director of the Cancer Control Program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon.

Sargent’s research team took a different approach. He said the research examined TV ads on U.S. cable and network television for the top 25 fast food restaurants from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010.

One of the first things his researchers noticed during the study was how hungry the ads aimed at adults made them, he said.

In stark contrast, the TV ads aimed at children focus on the toys accompanying the children’s meal or the newly released movie being promoted in conjunction with the children’s meal.

“There weren’t really any compelling images of food in these children’s ads,” Sargent said.

According to the study, “Over the one-year period, two global giants placed 99 percent of the ads: McDonalds (44,062 ads) and Burger King (37,210 ads). McDonald’s targeted 40 percent of its advertisements at young children, compared with 21 percent for Burger King. As a result, McDonald’s placed more than two-thirds of all ads for children’s fast food. Seventy-nine percent of ads appeared on four cable networks — Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney XD, and Nicktoons.”

The percentage of ads featuring premiums — like toy giveaways — are outweighed in children’s meal ads 69 percent when compared to adult ads, which was at 1 percent.

In a statement from Elaine Kolish of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and Wayne Keeley of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit Council of Better Business Bureaus said jointly that, “mere differences in the content of quick serve restaurant ads directed to adults and children by themselves don’t add up to failures to meet their commitments to CFBAI and CARU, as the authors of this new report suggest.

“Both McDonald’s and Burger King have honored their commitments to CFBAI,” Kolish said in the statement. “Our independent monitoring shows that, as promised, both have limited their child-directed advertising to meals meeting meaningful nutrition criteria. Both also have made improvements in the kid’s meals they advertise to children compared to 2006, before CFBAI was launched.”

University Health Lebanon