UPDATE 1-Fast-food restaurants target US kids, study shows

* Websites target toddlers

* State, local regulations can change marketing practices

* Children see more fast-food ads than in 2003
(Adds reaction from Burger King 14th paragraph)

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (BestGrowthStock) – Fast-food restaurants are
stepping up efforts to market themselves and unhealthy food
products to children and toddlers with television ads, websites
and even their own menus, researchers said on Monday.

They said efforts by the industry to regulate itself have
failed and urged government officials at all levels to declare
children a protected group and stop marketing efforts that are
fueling child obesity, a serious U.S. health problem.

“What we found in the marketing data is a staggering amount
of fast-food advertising that starts when children are as young
as 2 years old,” Jennifer Harris, of the Yale University Rudd
Center for Food Policy & Obesity in Connecticut, told a
telephone briefing.

Harris and colleagues spent a year studying 12 big
fast-food chains, analyzed the calories, fat, sugar and sodium
in menu items and kids’ meal combinations, and studied what
children and teens ordered.

The report, available at http://www.fastfoodmarketing.org,
finds the industry spent more than $4.2 billion in 2009 on
marketing and advertising on television, the Internet, social
media sites and mobile applications. (For related Factbox click
on [ID:nN08287565])

“Despite pledges to improve their marketing practices, fast
food companies seem to be stepping up their efforts to target
kids,” Harris said.

“Today, preschoolers see 21 percent more fast food ads on
TV than they saw in 2003, and somewhat older children see 34
percent more.”

McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N: ) has 13 websites, attracting 365,000
unique child visitors under 12 every month. One, ronald.com,
specifically targets preschoolers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says
two-thirds of American adults and 15 percent of children are
overweight or obese. In some states, the childhood obesity rate
is above 30 percent. [ID:nN03185321]

HEALTHIER CHOICES

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, spearheading an
administration initiative on child obesity, has urged food
manufacturers to re-package food so that it is healthier for
kids. [ID:nN12226316]

In 2007, McDonald’s and other large U.S. food and drink
companies pledged to adopt stricter controls on advertising
to children under 12.

“Most restaurants will say that they have added healthier
choices to their menus in recent years,” Yale’s Marlene
Schwartz, who worked on the study, told the briefing.

“In most cases you have to work very hard to get a healthy
side or drink in a fast-food restaurant,” Schwartz said. “You
have to know it exists and you have to ask for it.”

Burger King (BKC.N: ) in a statement said it “has
strengthened its commitment in this area since 2007 by
enhancing its nutrition criteria for advertised Kids Meals,”
including lowered sodium.

McDonald’s said it had kept its promises. “We primarily
advertise our popular 375 calorie four-piece Chicken McNugget
Happy Meal which includes Apple Dippers, low-fat caramel dip,
and a jug of 1 percent low-fat milk,” spokesman Neil Golden
said in a statement.

The researchers found that teenagers purchased 800 to 1,100
calories, or half a day’s worth, in an average visit.

Yale’s Kelly Brownell said state and local governments can
rein in the marketing behavior of the restaurants, pointing to
San Francisco’s law passed last week that cracks down on giving
away toys in children’s meals. [ID:nN02292018]

Brownell hopes Monday’s report will do more.

“There will be a level of anger, even rage perhaps, that
will set the stage for legislation and even regulatory action,”
he said.
(Additional reporting by Phil Wahba; Editing by David Storey
and Vicki Allen)

UPDATE 1-Fast-food restaurants target US kids, study shows