Fast Food Industry
Zeroes In On Children
By David Barboza - NYT
International Herald Tribune

Aggressive promotions trigger calls for bans and lawsuits.
McDonald's wants to be everywhere that children are.
So, besides operating thousands of restaurants around the world, it has plastered its golden arches on Barbie dolls, video games, book jackets and even theme parks.
McDonald's calls this promotion and brand extension. But a growing number of nutritionists call it a blitzkrieg that perverts children's eating habits and sets them on a path to obesity.
Marketing fast food, snacks and beverages to children is at least as old as Ronald McDonald himself. What is new, critics say, is the scope and intensity of the assault.
Big foodmakers like McDonald's and Kraft Foods are finding every imaginable way to put their names in front of children. And they are spending more than ever - $15 billion last year, compared with $12.5 billion in 1998, according to research conducted at Texas A&M University.
"What really changed over the last decade is the proliferation of electronic media," said Susan Linn, a psychologist who studies children's marketing at the Judge Baker Children's Center at Harvard University. "It used to just be Saturday morning television. Now it's Nickelodeon, movies, video games, the Internet and even marketing in schools."
Product tie-ins are everywhere. There are SpongeBob SquarePants Popsicles, Oreo Cookie preschool counting books and Keebler's Scooby Doo Cookies. There is even a Play-Doh Lunchables play set.
While the companies view these as harmless promotional pitches, lawyers are threatening a wave of obesity-related class-action lawsuits. Legislators are pressing to lock food companies out of school cafeterias. Some of the fiercest critics are calling for an outright ban on food advertising aimed at children.
"The problem of obesity is so staggering, so out of control, that we have to do something," said Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The vast majority of what they sell is junk," Willett said of the big foodmakers. "How often do you see fruits and vegetables marketed?"
The increase in food marketing to children has closely tracked their increase in weight. Since 1980, the proportion of obese children in the United States has more than doubled to 16 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Why would companies take aim at children so energetically? Because they, increasingly, are where the money is.
"It's the largest market there is," said James McNeal, a professor of marketing at Texas A&M and an authority on marketing to children. "Kids 4 to 12 spend on their own wants and needs about $30 billion a year. But their influence on what their parents spend is $600 billion. That's blue sky."
In toy stores, children can become accustomed to food brands early by buying a Hostess bake set, Barbie's Pizza Hut play set or Fisher-Price's Oreo Matchin' Middles game. And, for budding math whizzes, there is a series of books from Hershey's Kisses on addition, subtraction and fractions.
Schools are also a major marketing site. With many U.S. school districts facing budget squeezes, a quick solution has come from offering more profitable fast food from outlets like McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut.
Television remains the most powerful medium for selling to children. These days there is no shortage of advertising opportunities, with the emergence of Walt Disney's Disney Channel, as well as Nickelodeon, which is owned by Viacom, and the Cartoon Network, a unit of AOL Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting.
A series of big marketing alliances has bound food companies and television show producers like never before. Disney, for instance, has teamed up with McDonald's on movies and product tie-ins.
Some marketing deals have come under pressure. Last week the BBC said it would no longer allow its children's television characters to be used in fast-food sponsorships with companies like McDonald's after consumer groups criticized the public broadcaster for helping promote junk food.
Some companies deny that they even market to children. Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo insist that they direct their products only at teenagers and adults. And Yum Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, says it does not market to children or have operations in schools.
But sometimes the evidence would seem to contradict those statements. Coke signed a multimillion-dollar global marketing deal tied to the Harry Potter character in 2001, and many schools have contracts to serve food from Pizza Hut.
The New York Times
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