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Fast food restaurants lure kids with ads, toys...and it works

"There was no association between a child’s PBS TV viewing and visit frequency to those restaurants," researchers wrote in the new study.

By
Brooks Hays
According to new research, kids who spent more time watching kids TV programming were more likely to request a trip to McDonald's or Burger King. And parents were more likely to take them there. Photo by 1000 Words/Shutterstock
According to new research, kids who spent more time watching kids TV programming were more likely to request a trip to McDonald's or Burger King. And parents were more likely to take them there. Photo by 1000 Words/Shutterstock

HANOVER, N.H., Oct. 31 (UPI) -- A new study suggests fast food ads placed during kids programming do what they are designed to do -- bring kids and their families in to eat.

When researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University analyzed survey results from 100 kids and their families about their TV watching and fast food eating habits, they found a not-all-that-surprising correlation.

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According to their parents, the children, aged 3 to 7, who watched ad-supported kids TV programming -- on Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Cartoon Network and Disney -- were more likely to ask their parents to take them to McDonald's and Burger King. Those parents were more likely to oblige. The two restaurant chains put some 80 percent of their kid-targeted advertising -- usually toy or movie themed ads -- on the four aforementioned cable networks.

"The more frequently a child viewed commercial TV that featured child-directed fast-food meal advertising, the greater the likelihood their family visited fast-food restaurants that marketed directly to children on TV at the time," researchers wrote in their new paper, published in the Journal of Pediatrics. "In contrast, there was no association between a child's PBS TV viewing and visit frequency to those restaurants."

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More than half of the kids surveyed requested to visit one of the two main fast food chains, while thirty-seven percent of surveyed parents admitted making more frequent visits as a result. The tendencies were even greater for families with children who collected toys from the chains' kids meals.

The total number of TVs in the house, TVs in children's bedrooms and time spent watching daytime TV were all associated with more frequent family visits to fast food restaurants.

"For now, our best advice to parents is to switch their child to commercial-free TV programming to help avoid pestering for foods seen in commercials," lead researcher Jennifer Emond said in a news release.

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As the New York Times notes, the data used in the research was from a survey conducted in 2011. Facing continued criticism for their child-targeting ads, both McDonald's and Burger King have promised reforms in recent years -- though studies have found evidence that the companies actions don't always measure up to their words.

For their part, the researchers acknowledged that Burger King appears to no longer use TV ads to target children, but earlier this year McDonald's was criticized for an television spot emphasizing a "Ty Teenie Beanie Baby Boo" toy. The ad has since been removed from the air.

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"As a mom, I think it's important to raise awareness and build up frustration or anger over these practices," Emond told the Times. "They're marketing to a vulnerable population. I don't want companies to prey on my 3-year-old's cognitive weaknesses. Holding companies accountable for the pledges they've made is what leads to change."

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