Every day, children are bombarded by marketing of unhealthy food from restaurants, candy companies, and others. On average, children view more than 11 food-related ads everyday, on television alone.
Restaurants are the top food marketers to kids, and their in-store promotions, toy giveaways, television ads, websites, and school-based marketing, play a large role in shaping what children want to eat, as well as shaping what food adults view as appropriate for children. Restaurants have skillfully shaped norms that deem fried-chicken nuggets, burgers, pizza, fries, and sugary drinks as standard, acceptable kid food, when, in reality, kids need the healthiest food.
Not only do children need healthy food during this time of growth and development, but it’s also a time when they form habits for the future. Studies show that repeated exposure to fast food and soda, through marketing, and consumption, cultivates a pattern for future consumption and a preference for those foods. And what kids eat at restaurants matters more than in the past because children get a quarter of their calories from eating out, with families now spending more of their food dollars at restaurants than grocery stores.
So this leaves us with the question, what can we do? Advocates can work on passing state and local policies that improve the healthfulness of kids’ meals, as many communities have done already. We can also urge restaurants, big and small alike, to adopt policies that improve the healthfulness of their kids’ menus. As parents, we can talk to our local restaurants and tell them we want healthier options for our kids.
To date, a number of major chains, Subway, Panera, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Applebee’s, and Jack in the Box, have committed to no sugary drinks for their kids’ meals and menus. However, 74% of restaurant chains with kids’ meals still offer sugary drinks on the kids’ menu. Meanwhile, nine localities in California (Berkeley, Cathedral City, Daly City, Davis, Long Beach, Perris, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Stockton) and one in Colorado (Lafayette) have passed policies to ensure healthier kids’ meals.
We have made some headway, but there is still a long way to go. Let’s make it easier for kids to eat healthy and build good habits. If you’re interested in getting more involved and pursuing healthy kids’ meals in your area, or have any questions, contact us at [email protected].
Want to get involved? Join the Kids Meal Action team today!
Want to learn more? Visit Voices for Healthy Kids to access the Kids Meals toolkit today!
Margo Wootan was recently named one of the Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink by Fortune Magazine and recognized by Harvard School of Public Health for her leadership in public policy. She is the vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), named as the top Ranked Nonprofit for National Childhood Nutrition/Health. Dr. Wootan received her B.S. in nutrition from Cornell University and her doctorate in nutrition from Harvard University’s School of Public Health. Wootan has coordinated and led efforts to require calorie labeling at fast-food and other chain restaurants, require trans fat labeling on packaged foods, improve school foods, reduce junk-food marketing aimed at children, and expand nutrition and physical activity programs at CDC. She co-founded and has led both the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) and the Food Marketing Workgroup. Wootan is a powerful voice shaping the national nutrition debate. She is quoted regularly in the nation’s major media and appeared in the movies Super Size Me and Fed Up.