What messages do kids take from fast food ads?

Ads for fast food over emphasise premiums and under emphasise healthy food choices which is the opposite to guidelines within the advertising self-regulatory initiatives in the US. A study showed television ads for McDonald’s and Burger King to 3-7 year old children and asked them to recall what they had seen.

Two thirds of children shown McDonald’s ads and half shown Burger King ads could not recall any food at all and if they did it was rarely healthy food even though images of healthy food were shown in all children’s ads. They were just as likely to recall premiums although under the advertising initiatives premiums are supposed to be secondary to healthy food in ads to children.

The study authors suggest current self-regulation has little impact because by the time ads are reviewed they have stopped running. This is also the case in Australia where the self-regulatory system requires complaints to be lodged by the public before being considered. If the ad is found to breach the self-regulation it has usually finished running before the finding is handed down.

Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Gilbert-Diamond D, et al. Children’s Recall of Fast Food Television Advertising- Testing the Adequacy of Food Marketing Regulation. PLoS ONE 2015 Mar 4; 10(3):e0119300
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