2014 has been a watershed year for the food movement pushing back against fast food marketing to kids. When McDonald’s unveiled the twitter hashtag #RonaldMcDonald in April to revive slumping sales, they met backlash over their marketing to children. In May, we took the #MomsNotLovinIt campaign to McDonald’s Annual Shareholders Meeting. The CEO, Don Thompson, made a tactical error by responding to our concerns with, “We don’t put Ronald out in schools.” This was a patently false statement and triggered a call by advocacy groups from around the world asking him to stand by his assertion that Ronald McDonald does not make appearances in schools. This became even more critical with new research showing fast food chains disproportionately target black kids with marketing:
In a new study, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Arizona State University found that fast food chains in predominantly black neighborhoods were more than 60 percent more likely to advertise to children than in predominantly white neighborhoods. The researchers also found that fast food restaurants in middle- and low-income areas tended to direct their ads toward children more often than those in high-income neighborhoods, and those in rural communities tended to market their products to kids more often than those in more urban settings. “Fast food restaurants in black neighborhoods have significantly higher odds of using kids’ meal toy displays to market their products to children compared to restaurants in white neighborhoods,” said Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, the lead author of the study. “The associations we observe are troubling because we know that black children are at higher risk for consuming unhealthy diets including fast food, and have higher prevalence of obesity.”
This led even more voices joining the call for action on regulating fast food marketing to kids:
The average child between the ages of 2 and 11 sees nearly 200 commercials for McDonald’s Chicken McNugget Happy Meals on television, and another 23 for Burger King’s Kids Meals each year. Fast food restaurants also still spend upwards of $700 million each year to market their foods to children and teenagers. Given the public health stakes, it might be time to reconsider whether the industry is capable of regulating itself. “The companies will argue that they can’t control it if some people eat more fast food than others, but at the same time, they’re increasing the disproportionate demand through their marketing,” Harris said. “For that reason regulating marketing in fast food companies is the only way to solve this problem.”
Students also joined in asking for freedom from fast food marketing:
Forty-eight fourth-graders from a Chicago charter school joined forces Nov. 12 outside a Darien McDonald’s with representatives from a corporate accountability organization to protest McDonald’s targeted marketing to children.
Fast food companies’ marketing to kids has gone unchallenged for far too long but that’s starting to change. What did it take to shift the public climate around R.J. Reynolds using Joe Camel to market cigarettes to kids? A “Send Joe Camel Packing” campaign eventually led to President Clinton, the American Medical Association, the Surgeon General and the Federal Trade Commission all voicing their opposition to the cartoon mascot. The time has come to send fast food mascots packing as well.