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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Healthy Options On Fast Food Menus Go Overlooked

Fast food restaurants were put on notice this week. A study out of Yale analyzes marketing campaigns as related to kids and those "better-for-you" menu items.

How To Sell Fast Food

Fast Food F.A.C.T.S. was developed by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale. It found that the fast food industry spent $4.2 billion in 2009 on TV advertising and other media, with advertisers specifically targeting Hispanic and African-American youth. 84 percent of parents reported taking their child to a fast food restaurant at least once a week, with teens purchasing 800 to 1,100 calories in an average visit.

Salads Vs. Burgers

Much has been made these days about fast food restaurants offering healthy options on their menus. The Yale study looked at these efforts specifically. Here is a sampling of the findings as they relate to the healthy options available on fast food menus.

  • Even though McDonald’s and Burger King only showed their “better-for-you” foods in child-targeted marketing, their ads did not encourage consumption of these healthier choices. Instead, child-targeted ads focused on toy giveaways and building brand loyalty.
  • Just 17 percent of regular menu items qualified as healthy choices.
  • The average restaurant had 15 signs promoting specific menu items, but just 4 percent promoted healthy menu items.
  • When ordering a kids’ meal, restaurant employees at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell automatically served french fries or another unhealthy side dish more than 84 percent of the time. A soft drink or other unhealthy beverage was served automatically at least 55 percent of the time.

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Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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