Should Restaurants Use Characters To Promote Unhealthy Foods?

I find this to be an interesting debate similar to should companies be able to promote smoking.  On the one hand, kids are obviously motivated to go to a fast food restaurant to get the latest toy that comes with the kids meal.  On the other hand, they can’t do it unless their parents take them there.

Additionally, you have to think about what the consumption of these fast foods are by the general population to understand if kids are eating the food at a higher rate than their parents.  I’m not sure you could look at families versus couples because by the nature of families being busier and more scheduled they are less likely to eat prepared meals at home.

These high level issues are important because if kids are likely to eat the meals anyways than why not give them a free toy because you are essentially using marketing to get them to choose one restaurant over another based on the toy.  If it is the toy that is changing their eating habits then we have a different issue – commercials, over-scheduling, parental control, access to healthy meals and snacks, and general eating habits of the population.  I struggle with the argument that the companies themselves shouldn’t be allowed to advertise.

But, I do think there is comparative research which has been done on tobacco and alcohol advertising (i.e., the Marlboro Man).

A factoid I saw in Time this morning was that

“Celebrity sells…kids think food tastes better when a popular carton character appears on the packaging…But, the flavor boost occurs only with junk food, not healthy snacks like vegetables.”

Even with that data, 47% of the child-marketing budgets for fruits and vegetables are on licensed characters compared to 29% of the dairy budgets, 15% of the junk food budgets, and 7% of the candy and ice cream budgets.

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