Field Notes

Fast-Food Ads for More Healthful Kids’ Meals
Don’t Send the Right Message

Fast-food companies’ attempts at depicting more healthful kids’ meals frequently go unnoticed by children aged 3 to 7, according to a new study by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center. In research published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that one-half to one-third of children didn’t identify milk when shown children’s advertising from McDonald’s and Burger King depicting that product. Sliced apples in Burger King’s ads were identified as apples by only 10% of young viewers; instead most reported they were French fries.

“Burger King’s depiction of apple slices as Fresh Apple Fries was misleading to children in the target age range,” says principal investigator James Sargent, MD, codirector of the Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “The advertisement would be deceptive by industry standards, yet their self-regulation bodies took no action to address the misleading depiction.”

In 2010, McDonald’s and Burger King began to advertise apples and milk in kids’ meals. Sargent and his colleagues studied fast-food television ads aimed at children from July 2010 through June 2011. In this study, researchers extracted freeze frames of kids’ meals shown in TV ads that appeared on children’s cable networks. Of the four healthful food depictions studied, only McDonald’s presentation of apple slices was recognized as an apple product by a large majority of the target audience, regardless of age. Researchers found that the other three presentations represented poor communication.

This study follows an earlier investigation conducted by Sargent and his colleagues, which found that McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising emphasized giveaways such as toys or movie tie-ins to develop children’s brand awareness for fast-food chains, despite self-imposed guidelines that discourage the practice.

While the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission play important regulatory roles in food labeling and marketing, the Better Business Bureau operates a self-regulatory system for children’s advertising. Two different programs offer guidelines to keep children’s advertising focused on the food, not toys and, more specifically, on foods with nutritional value.

“The fast-food industry spends somewhere between $100 to 200 million dollars a year on advertising to children, ads that aim to develop brand awareness and preferences in children who can’t even read or write, much less think critically about what’s being presented,” Sargent says.

— Source: Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center


Obesity Prevention Programs Can Lower Kids’ Blood Pressure

One of the serious health consequences of obesity is elevated blood pressure (BP), a particular problem in children because research has found that high BP in children usually follows them into adulthood, carrying with it a wide range of possible negative consequences.

Even modest elevations in the BP of adolescents, according to recent research, can pose cardiovascular problems later in life.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies of the effect of child obesity intervention programs on BP has found that whether or not such programs prevented obesity, many of them reduced children’s BP. It also found that the most effective programs in this regard promoted both healthful eating and physical activity. The study was published online in Circulation.

“Of the 28 obesity interventions with complete data that we analyzed, 13, or 46%, had a favorable effect on both adiposity and BP, and 11 interventions, or 39%, had a significant effect on the reduction of BP, even if they didn’t affect adiposity,” says epidemiologist Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, of the University at Buffalo.

“It’s important to identify obesity intervention programs that can help children develop healthy lifestyles and keep BP at an optimal level,” he notes, “because these programs help them avoid many long-term health consequences.”

Wang’s research team is working on projects in the United States and abroad that aim to assess the additional benefits of obesity prevention programs for children and to develop the most effective programs possible. The team also is using transnational comparison studies to analyze factors suspected of contributing to the global obesity epidemic.

— Source: University at Buffalo