If you have ever given in to the pleading of your child to stop by the local fast food restaurant for a meal because of the toy being offered, you have witnessed one of the strongest marketing tools these companies use. Marketing toward children puts their long-term health at risk by enticing them to eat foods that are low in nutrition, the Center for Science in the Public Interest reports. Fast food restaurants invest about 10 billion dollars a year to entice children to eat at their establishments.
One of the most powerful marketing tools that fast food restaurants use is the promise of a toy with the purchase of any kids’ meal. The food inside the meal is far less important to most children than the toy that comes with, the Colorado State University Extension reports. When fast food restaurants offer versions of the most popular toys on the market, children want to eat the food so they can get the toy. The problem isn’t the toy, but the lack of nutritious food that children eat to obtain the toy. Most kids’ meals are high in fat, calories and salt, but low in essential nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and iron.
When a kids’ meal is packaged in a box or a bag that depicts well-known cartoon characters, children often want to eat the meal. Fast food restaurants use this to their advantage by offering toys that depict the characters, as well as packaging overloaded with the characters. It is a powerful marketing tool to use popular characters because they are so recognizable by children. Many fast food restaurants go so far as to offer a character aimed toward girls and a different character aimed toward boys, which increases their demographic considerably. Celebrities that endorse fast food restaurants can have similar impacts on the desire children have to eat the food.
The promise of fun is often enough to entice children into wanting fast food. Certain fast food restaurants have on-site playgrounds that attract children to the establishments. On-site televisions showing popular shows and movies is another way fast food restaurants use fun to get children into the establishments. Visits by well-known characters is another marketing tool that fast food restaurants use. Contests, free samples and give-aways are additional ways that fast food restaurants capitalize on marketing to children.
An occasional fast food meal won’t harm your child’s health and can be a fun way to celebrate a special occasion. Choose the healthiest food possible to make the visit even better. Many restaurants offer alternatives, such as apple slices or mandarin oranges, that can replace the unhealthy french fries. Opt for plain milk in place of soda to cut sugar and add important calcium and vitamin D to the meal. Reduce how much time your child spends watching television commercials as well, so he isn’t exposed to fast food restaurant advertising, the Colorado State University Extension recommends.