The restaurant industry's promises to offer healthier options in their kids’ meals is not happening, a new report finds. It appears that, once again, it's up to parents to watch what their kids eat when they eat out.
In 2010, the four largest fast food chains — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Subway — committed to offer healthier beverages and sides with kids’ meals and leave the sugary soda option off their menu boards. Six years later, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut found big differences in the way restaurants implemented these practices.
Today, kids are still getting sugary sodas and French fries with kids’ meals, and restaurants are still promoting these unhealthy options on menu boards and in advertising. Healthier sides and drinks are available In some restaurants, but they are not promoted and not automatically included as part of kids’ meals.
Fast food restaurants have an opportunity and a responsibility to do more to promote healthier options for kids. It's also good business.
Children are eating fast food more often, the report also found. In 2010, 79 percent of parents reported purchasing fast food for their child’s lunch or dinner in the past week; that number rose to 91 percent in 2016, with McDonald’s being the most commonly visited fast food outlet. The authors attribute the rising popularity of fast foods to a combination of factors: their low cost, convenience, easy access and an increase in fast food advertising aimed at children.
The report also found:
Fast food restaurants have an opportunity and a responsibility to do more to promote healthier options for kids. It's also good business. The report makes clear that parents would choose to eat at restaurants that offer healthy options more often. Offering kid-friendly, healthy options is a marketing opportunity these restaurants are ignoring.
Parents can take control and make their voices heard until fast food establishments up their game. Don’t accept the default items when ordering a kids’ meal. Ask for healthier options — apple slices, fruit cups, low-fat milk, yogurt, 100 percent juice or just plain water. For young children, order the smaller-portion kids’ meals, not the items meant for adults.
You can read the full report online.