A recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has claimed that fast food TV advertisements directed at children have allegedly failed to abide by Children’s Advertising Review Unit and Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative recommendations that food products—as opposed to toys, movie tie-ins and brands—should be the focus of youth marketing messages. Amy Bernhardt, et al., “How Television Fast Food Marketing Aimed at Children Compares with Adult Advertisements,” PLoS One, August 2013. After reviewing all nationally televised advertisements for the top 25 quick service restaurants (QSRs) in the United States, researchers with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and Public Health Advocacy Institute reported that 99 percent of the 92 QSR children’s meal advertisements that aired between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010, were attributable to either McDonald’s or Burger King. They also purportedly found that—compared with adult advertisements over the same period—visual branding, food packaging and street views of the QSR restaurants were all more common in child-directed advertising, while “toy premiums or giveaways were present in 69% vs. 1% and movie tie-ins present in 55% vs. 14% of children’s vs. adult advertisements.”

“Given health concerns about obesity and its relation to fast food consumption, enhanced oversight of QSR marketing to children at the local, state and federal level is needed to align QSR advertising to children with health promotion efforts and existing principles of honest and fair marketing to children,” concludes the study. “We suggest that annual evaluations are needed. In order to be effective, however, the monitoring needs to be conducted by an agency like the FTC [Federal Trade Commission]. If the same problems continue to be found in more contemporary advertisements despite continued self-regulation, further governmental action aimed at children’s food advertising may be warranted.”