Fast Food Advertising in America: The Direct Link to Rising Childhood Obesity

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AP English Language
Period 4

Fast Food Advertising In America: The Direct Link to Rising Childhood Obesity

It is definitely not news that a high number of American children are obese, but new research shows that the real cause of this obesity is the toxic food environment that we live in. According to Kelly, Brownell, PhD., co-founder and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, the problem is not people’s lack of self-control for their obesity, but the “strips of fast-food restaurants, the barrage of burger advertising, and the rows of candies and snacks at the checkout counter at any given convenience store” (Murray 33). Genes and self-control also play a role in obesity, but both face a losing battle in the mass propaganda of fast food. Children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic food environment where the bombardment of fast food ads and their exposure to unhealthy food is overwhelming. In the past 30 years, fast food advertising has contributed to the rising rates of childhood obesity in America.

American children today watch an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 television commercials per year, and the fast food industry spends about $4 billion on advertising to children annually (Shah 2). The marketing seems to be paying off. American children spend around $18 billion a year on fast food. Despite industry efforts to reduce marketing aimed at kids, researchers from the Rudd Center at Yale University found that in 2009, preschoolers saw 56% more ads than in 2007, and children age 6-11 saw 59% more ads (Melnick 3). It seems that fast food advertising does get young consumers to buy their products. Fast food ads affect children’s request for certain foods, which can put pressure on parents and instigate conflicts between parents and their children. Forty percent of parents reported that their child asked to go to a fast food restaurant at least once a week and eighty-four percent of them gave in (Melnick 4). The goal of most children’s advertisements is to get kids to nag their parents in order for them to buy what they want. This is called “pester power” (Schlosser 43).

James McNeal, a professor of marketing at Texas A+M University had provided marketers with an analysis of the nagging tactics that children use. The pleading nag is accompanied with words like “please” and “mom, mom, mom”. The persistent nag uses constant requests and the phrase “I’m gonna ask just one more time”. Forceful nags are very pushy and use threats like “Then I’ll go ask dad”. Demonstrative nags include full-blown tantrums in public places and refusals to leave the store. Sugar-coated nags promise love and affection for the purchase of an item, but threatening nags use blackmail and promises of hatred if something is not bought. Finally, the pity nag uses claims that the child will be heart-broken or teased if the item is not bought (Schlosser 44). This marketing research demonstrates that children have enormous purchasing power, both directly and indirectly.

About 30 years ago, only a few American companies, like McDonalds and Disney, directed their marketing at children. But the role of American children has dramatically changed in the past 30 years. Since the 1980s, many working parents have felt guilty about spending less time with their children and started spending more money on them. Today, there is an explosion of advertising aimed at children from restaurant chains, fast food chains, clothing stores, and even phone and oil companies. Fast food companies have also increased their online advertising to children. Banner ads for fast food on websites for Nickelodeon and Disney attract “tens of millions of children per month” states Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of Rudd. Researchers at Rudd also found that children were being exposed to ads through adult television shows like American Idol or televised sports events. They call this “second hand exposure” (Melnick 4). According to...
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