Happy Meals ads on TV blamed for 3-7 year olds eating at fast food restaurants

Uh… don’t the parents have to take them there?

“Researchers found that 37% of parents reported more frequent visits to the two fast food restaurants with child-directed TV ads.”

The media release is below.


Kids meals, toys, and TV advertising: A triple threat to child health

Cincinnati, OH, October 30, 2015 — Fast food companies advertise children’s meals on TV with ads that feature toy premiums, and it has been suggested that the use of these toy premiums may prompt children to request eating at fast food restaurants. In a new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that the more children watched television channels that aired ads for children’s fast food meals, the more frequently their families visited those fast food restaurants.

Using a database they compiled of all fast food TV ads that aired nationally in 2009, Jennifer A. Emond, PhD, and colleagues from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth found that only two nationally-recognized fast food chains engaged in child-directed TV advertising at that time. According to Dr. Emond, “Seventy-nine percent of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children’s networks.”

The researchers enrolled 100 children (3-7 years of age) and one of their parents in the study. The parents completed a survey that included questions about how often their children watched each of the four children’s networks, if their children requested visits to the two restaurants, if their children collected toys from those restaurants, and how often the family visited those restaurants. Researchers found that 37% of parents reported more frequent visits to the two fast food restaurants with child-directed TV ads.

Fifty-four percent of the children requested visits to at least one of the restaurants. Of the 29% of children who collected toys from the restaurants, almost 83% requested to visit one or both of the restaurants. Some factors associated with more frequent visits were more TVs in the home, a TV in the child’s bedroom, more time spent watching TV during the day, and more time spent watching one of the four children’s networks airing the majority of child-directed ads.

Despite the small numbers of enrolled families, this study shows that the more frequently a child views child-directed fast food TV ads, often involving a toy, the more likely the family visited the fast food restaurant that was featured in the advertising. These findings also show that children’s food preferences may be partially shaped by a desire for the toys featured in TV ads. “For now,” notes Dr. Emond, “our best advice to parents is to switch their child to commercial-free TV programming to help avoid pestering for foods seen in commercials.”


3 thoughts on “Happy Meals ads on TV blamed for 3-7 year olds eating at fast food restaurants”

  1. There is a perfectly rational reason that true parents (adults with 2 or more children for whom they are responsible) would patronize fast food outlets that proffer toys with kid’s meals.
    It greatly simplifies the cost and logistics of meal preparation, which has become important since the Women’s Rights Movement altered the nation’s demographics towards two-income families, and towards single mothers with jobs AND families to raise.
    It takes valuable *time* to prepare daily meals for a family, but Happy Meals are an affordable alternative to the time investment.

  2. I don’t know if anybody else noticed this bit in “The Dilbert Future” or it is a figment of my corrupt memory, but I think there was an observation / prediction that if the advertising industry made progress at a rate common to many thriving industries, in the 21st century the purchase of goods seen on the telly would become compulsory.

    I’d love to see a precise quote if I didn’t make it up. It’s not often that you see predictions made by a cartoonis (or anybody) come crashing true like this.

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