Just days after the city of San Francisco passed their “Happy Meal Ban” — a city ordinance that requires restaurants to meet certain nutrition requirements if they include a toy with the food purchase—a group of health researchers at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity released a new study on fast-food marketing targeted at youth. The study, somewhat unsurprisingly, found what most of us may have assumed to be true: the advertising of unhealthy foods to children is on the rise.

Rudd researchers surveyed the marketing outreach of twelve of the largest fast food chains in the country as well as over 3,000 combinations of kid’s meals served in these establishments. According to the study approximately 4.2 billion dollars was spent in 2009 by the fast food industry on advertising to youth alone. Now what do these dollars pay for? The average preschooler views almost three ads per day, children ages 6-11 view three-and-a-half ads; and teens views almost five ads per day.

Beyond the shear shocking dollar amount spent on television, internet, and social media buys for youth, the greater concern is really as to whether this type of advertising to children is effective. The Rudd Center study proves that the fast food industry’s billions of dollars are well spent. Researchers found that 40 percent of preschoolers ask their parents to go to McDonald’s at least once a week, and 15 percent of preschoolers ask to go daily. This all amounts to parents giving in; a hefty 84 percent of parents reported having taken their child for fast food in the past week. And, these numbers are just skimming the surface of the Rudd Center’s recent findings.

Surely, the fast food industry will argue that healthier options are being offered, and, yes, parents have a choice to serve their children other fast food meals. However, if businesses are to take full accountability for their actions, and truly invest in creating healthier alternatives for their consumers, perhaps the 4.2 billion dollars in advertising to children would be spent elsewhere.

Although the 111th Congress is drawing to a close, there has been legislation offered on the federal level to start regulating this type of predatory advertising on children. Notably, Rep. Jim Moran introduced H.R. 4053 this Congress, the Healthy Kids Act, which would allow the Federal Trade Commission, Health and Human Services, and the Federal Communications Commission different facets of authority to regulate “junk food” marketing to youth audiences. With the shift of power in the 112th Congress, we only hope that Representatives and Senators alike remember that the health of our children is paramount and this priority should be reflected in their policy-making.

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