Food Labeling

Despite Advocates' Wishes, Parents Still Buying Fast Food for Kids

They're lovin it


Francis Joseph Dean /Deanpicture/Newscom

A new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, released last month, claims that parents are buying more fast food for their kids than ever before. Worse still, say the study's authors, parents are turning a blind eye to so-called healthier choices that are now available at many of those fast food outlets and sticking with tried-and-true junk food choices.

The study is based on a survey of roughly 800 parents with one or more children aged 2-11. It reveals some surprising findings. For example, it found at least one in three parents buy food for their kids at Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, or Subway at least once each week. It also found that more than 90 percent of parents bought their kids a meal at one of those four restaurants during the past week. And it found that just five percent of parents never buy their kids food from McDonald's.

Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives with the Rudd Center, told CBS News that "fast food companies have come under a lot of pressure from public health advocates to improve the nutrition quality of their products, especially kids' meals" and that "[t]hey have responded by offering healthier side options in kids meals."

But the study authors also suggest the promise of these healthier options is helping lure parents into restaurants, only for them to continue to choose less healthy options once there.

For years, advocates have urged fast food restaurants to carry healthier options, particularly in kids' meals. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the new Rudd Center study, urged fast food companies, in a 2013 study of its own, to "increase the proportion of lower-calorie, healthier items on their menus and make them available at a reasonable price."

"It's always nice when a restaurant offers a few things on their menu that aren't fried," the Rudd Center's own Marlene Schwartz, told the Connecticut Post in 2011. ("Schwartz said it's uncertain that kids will pick the healthy items as long as the unhealthy items are still there," the paper also noted.)

Fast food consumption by children is up despite the aforementioned moves by many fast food restaurants in recent years to offer putatively healthier choices for kids.

Notably, many of these same advocates have also supported legislative efforts to crack down on fast food choices available to parents buying meals for kids. It appears most of these efforts have failed or backfired, and have given rise to their share of unintended consequences.

Restaurant menu labeling was supposed to drive consumers, parents especially, to make healthier choices in fast food restaurants. It hasn't. Just the opposite. Los Angeles famously (and really, really disastrously) banned new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles. San Francisco's Happy Meal Ban was an immediate bust, as McDonald's simply offered their Happy Meal toys for a small additional price. Others have followed. One of the interesting points I noted in the new Rudd report, for example, is that Burger King now offers "a dessert in place of a kids' meal toy." What's that, government and advocates? Offering free toys with a high-calorie kids' meal purchase is bad? Fine. We'll just give them some more calories instead. Delicious.

Other nefarious proposals haven't gotten off the launch pad. Austin considered banning fast food restaurants near places where kids congregate. And after researchers claimed fast food logos brainwash kids, some called for such marketing to be banned forthwith.

The Rudd study embraces these sorts of government interventions. For example, it suggests fast food restaurants should make healthier choices the default and endorses government measures, such as those in places like Baltimore, that mandate this practice.

I surmise these laws will continue not to achieve their goals. Nevertheless, fast food restaurants are still restauranting, responding to evolving consumer demands by implementing changes of their own—including some that kids' meal critics will cheer. For example, McDonald's announced earlier this year that it was making changes to its Happy Meals that will remove calories, sodium, and sugar from the kids' menu items. That's the sort of change we should applaud.

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  1. Choice = Good

    1. Indeed. Choice in everything.

  2. Damn those people for not doing what we know is good for them. Obviously, we need more laws. After all, it’s for their own good.

    1. And punishments. We must have punishments.

      Rubs hands together….

      1. Yes! Brave knights must be able to give punishments. When those ladies are bad they should be punished by spanking. There should be sparkings! And then the oral sex.

        1. Judge Montoyo what is the meaning of sparkings? And have you ever done it to an unconscious girl that you drugged?

          1. just every chance he gets!

    2. At what point do you interfere, though? I know some people that will never ever think about saving for retirement. Without social security, they would be starving in their old age? What to do? Let them starve? Of course, the libertarian solution would be to let private charities and family members take care of them. But I’ll be damned if I don’t think taking some money from them during their working years, and returning it to them when they are too old and weak to work, makes it sound more fair. Now, that doesn’t mean I support social security. But I do understand the frustration of dealing with people like that in society.

      1. “We have to interfere. The little people are stupider than we are, they’re simple children who need to be farmed guided by their betters. My poorly researched study says they make bad choices.”

        1. Or as Bill Clinton said, “we could give you some of your money back, but you might not spend it right”….

          You can be a libertarian or an authoritarian. You can’t be both.

      2. But I’ll be damned if I don’t think taking some money from them during their working years, and returning it to them when they are too old and weak to work, makes it sound more fair.

        Sure, that sounds fair. But that’s not what we’ve been doing, is it? You’re making the same mistake Socialists make – you’re comparing the *textbook* version of Social Security to the real-life version of people not saving.

        When you compare the real-life version of Social Security – taking some money from people now, under threat of death if they don’t comply, giving that money to *someone else*, and then taking money from someone else, under threat of death if they don’t comply, and giving back to someone else less than they had originally had taken from them, it doesn’t sound so fair or cut-and-dried anymore, does it?

      3. If we let them die, how can they vote for us?
        Well, except for Chicago.

      4. Coddling them makes it worse.

  3. Then the progs must double down and mandate that parents serve their children tofu and other delicious food.

    1. Still insufficient. All children must be removed, at birth, to institutions where Top Men and Top Women and Top Name Your Genders can raise them to be good citizens who obey said Top folks.

      1. It will happen, just be patient. The leaders discovered Orwell’s 1984 can work as a training manual. Soon they’ll realize Huxley’s Brave New World also has some great ideas they can implement.

      2. You joke about this but there are actual published studies from victim studies professors decrying the unfair advantage stable family units have over the average child.

        1. More and more it seems like my guiding political philosophy should be “Everyone is Retards, Point and Laugh.”

      3. It takes a village

    2. Deep fried tofu, though, of course.

    3. Tofu is of course a useless food that is empty of any value and only used as a filler

  4. The alleged purpose of the laws was to reduce youth “obesity,” especially among “oppressed minorities” living in “food deserts.” Any word on the trends in youth obesity? Or is this another case of enforcement of the laws becoming ends in themselves no longer related to their alleged purpose?

    1. Food deserts are a myth. They are caused by the local populace rejecting the buying of fresh produce. People who use the term are dumb.

      1. “People who use the term are dumb.”
        Or willful liars.
        There is an intersection in SF, populated at the time by bums in tents, which was identified as the center of a “food desert” several years back.
        Within 3 blocks, there is a Costco, a ‘dented can’ grocery, and a co-op tofu-and-kale outlet. 3 more blocks gets you a Safeway, add two more and you get a Whole Foods.

        1. I’m surprised the libs haven’t cracked down on meal kits yet.
          All that shipping and tree killing for the boxes, and all that liquid plastic whatever stuff to keep it cold.
          But I guess they never crack down on stuff they use. (witness taxes on soda but not on lattes)

  5. Human nature, the bane of central planning.

  6. One of the things that fascinates me about the fast food market is that it seems about as close to a perfectly competitive free market as you can get. New chains do spring up from time to time (Chick-fil-A and In-n-Out seem more popular than they used to be); existing chains can’t seem to increase their dominance. New products emerge from old chains. Customers definitely rule, having multiple allegiances which shift on a whim.

    Maybe that’s why proggies hate fast food so much. That kind of choice and flexibility shows the hollowness of their statist ambitions. The fast food market is about the worst area for central planning.

  7. OT:
    Facebook exec doesn’t tow the lion, Facebook snowflakes outraged!

    “Facebook Exec Admits One Small Misstep in Kavanaugh Hearing Trip”
    “Kaplan told employees that he should have alerted Facebook management before going to the hearings, according to people familiar with the matter. Kaplan did not say that he regretted his attendance, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing an internal event. Kaplan is a close personal friend of Kavanaugh, and has appeared at several other events to support the judge.”

    And it looks like his self-criticism session didn’t go as planned, either.

  8. (Some) people still send their children to sketchy backwater religious schools, use no or substandard car seats, smoke with children in a vehicle or room, impose superstitious indoctrination on their children, tolerate truancy, let children play with guns, teach their children to be bigots, rely on faith healers and reject physicians for their children, hand packets of fireworks to children, and engage in countless other dangerous, harmful, stupid parenting practices.

    A Happy Meal once every few months is reasonable. A Happy Meal every few days is a marker for a child afflicted by uneducated, unsuccessful, ignorant parents.

    We should hope every relevant child overcomes the obstacles of lousy parents, shambling hometowns, poverty, and the like. We also should recognize that some types of parenting can’t die off fast enough.

    The antidotes are progress, education, science, and reason. Dumb, lazy, backward parents should not be a reason to skimp on liberty or choice. Some of our best citizens have overcome dumb, lazy, backward parents.

    1. Carry on, imposter!

      1. Dude, it’s the Special Deluxe Expanded Version of Kirkland’s One Comment! Must be the B side.

        1. The good Rev does appear to be a one-note performance…

    2. No description of deplorable parents should omit drunken drivers, child-beaters, destructive addicts, wife-beaters, or those who listen to country music in the home.

      1. As long as you in particular doesn’t reproduce we’ll be fine.

      2. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland|10.6.18 @ 10:09AM|#
        “No description of deplorable parents should omit drunken drivers, child-beaters, destructive addicts, wife-beaters, or those who listen to country music in the home.”

        I thought this was about Bobby Kennedy, but he didn’t have the taste to enjoy Walon..

        1. I should clarify: Current country music. The Kenny Chesney Jason Aldean Luke Bryan Florida Georgia Line Trace Adkins hick-in-a-pickup music. That stuff is not fit for functional adults or children.

          Waylon, Willie, Hank (the original), Johnny Cash, Bob Wills, and the older, non-bro-country stuff are fine. Willie and Hank, in particular, are substantially better than fine. Some country music is excellent.

      3. I see the Rev’s carny-barking, huckster yelling, patent medicine show revival tour is still trundling along.

        Step right up and be amazed…or something…

      4. “…or those who listen to country music in the home.”


        1. If we’re not having fun, what’s the point?

        2. Do you mean ‘the home’ as in the county old folks home, of ‘the home’ as in paid for manufactured home?

      5. You are one racist bigot.

        1. I am not in the market for criticisms from half-educated, superstitious, bigoted, authoritarian, backwater-inhabiting right-wing yahoos.

      6. According to this comment, 80% of the Dems in Congress are deplorable parents.

    3. Are there any Amendments in the Bill of Rights you ARE in favor of, Rev?

    4. Written like someone who’s never had children.

      Keep telling us how you are so much better than everyone else Artie. Maybe someday, someone will believe it.

  9. I remember when McDonalds went from pink slime chicken McNuggets to all white meat chicken McNuggets. I stopped asking my mom for McNuggets.

    Parents go to fast food places because they want a meal that cheap, low effort, and most importantly that their kids will consume with joy. Healthy options fail on the last category, so until these health nuts actually start caring about making “healthy” food that non health nuts will find good tasting, low effort, and cheap. Kids and parents will keep choosing fast food.

    1. They foreshadowed the fix to your concerns in the paper and quoted in the article. They’ll simply outlaw choice.

      Schwartz said it’s uncertain that kids will pick the healthy items as long as the unhealthy items are still there,” the paper also noted.

      1. “Schwartz said it’s uncertain that kids will pick the healthy items as long as the unhealthy items are still there,”
        Yeah, she pulled back the curtain on her real intentions a little.

    2. Healthy food tastes great to me. It’s all about what you are used to eating. Raise your kids on chicken nuggets, and they will love chicken nuggets. Raise your kids on wholesome food, and they will love wholesome food.

      1. Two world wars were won on fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. Oh, with a slice or two of a white bread pusher.

        1. No. They were won on Spam and subsidized cigarettes

          1. and chocolate and coffee

        2. don’t forget about SOS I make that meal every now and then, that is some good comfort food. My Grandfather a WWII Marine made that all the time, I still can’t quite match his.

      2. And when you deny them other options they will gorge the moment it’s available.

    3. most importantly that their kids will consume with joy.

      More accurately – that their kids will eat in a fast enough timeframe to meet our preference. It’s not actually joy – it’s quiet conformity to us. Before age 12 or so, kids are curious about some things – and totally neophobic and routine-seeking about others (food, bedtime stories, etc).

      For things they are curious about – choice, options, etc are a great boon to neural development and growth.

      For things they are neophobic about, choice and forced quick decisions just create stress and retard neural development. In that situation, they will simply reinforce existing neural connections (I didn’t die when I ate that food last time so I’ll only eat that food this time too). Their whining is actually because they are being forced to make a fast decision when they don’t actually have the neural connection that informs them that some new decision (and it can take a few dozen experiences before the decision is no longer ‘new’) is ok.

    4. I remember when McDonalds went from pink slime chicken McNuggets to all white meat chicken McNuggets. I stopped asking my mom for McNuggets.

      Thank goodness my children and grandchildren will have the opportunity to compete economically with yahoos like this one.

    5. Higher taxes and living costs from regulation require two working parents to do well in life.

      Imagine the shock when parents have to forgo cooking meals to feed their families cheaply and quickly!

  10. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

    “Center FOR Obesity”?! WTF?

    1. Unless there’s a problem, how can they be saviors?

  11. Children can only eat what parents buy them. While I think it is good to provide parents with good nutrition information, you can’t make parents feed their kids healthy food. I don’t think the efforts to provide health options is bad. I also think providing nutrition education and healthy meals in schools also helps children develop better eating habits. However, we can’t force parents to always do the right thing.

    As a child, I rarely ate fast food because I lived in a small town and there was no fast food and my parents were poor and we rare ate out. When we did go to a larger city and I finally ate at McDonalds, I did not like it.

    1. My kid loves vegetables. Eats a wide variety of things. The schools do not help, however. My kid that fights with us over who gets the last grilled squash will not eat the school food. We have to pack vegetables, usually raw, because the vegetables at the school are basically just boiled masses of tasteless vitamins. I wouldn’t eat it either based on what he has relayed.

      Healthy isn’t the only requirement.

  12. The self-appointed advocates, who are literally nothing more than busy-bodies of the worst type, can go screw off.

  13. Well, after reading the above I think it’s time for a family outing to Mickey D’s, salad options not permitted or anything with greenery in it…

    1. Can you make an exception for a Big Mac? It has lettuce.

      1. “Remove the lettuce from our Big Macs, it has no business being there”

        Like any of them have ever, or would ever, choose a salad anyway.

  14. changes to its Happy Meals that will remove calories, sodium, and sugar from the kids’ menu items. That’s the sort of change we should applaud.

    Careful about sodium bans from the expertards. Sodium is not dangerous, and reducing it decreases satiety, meaning that kids are actually likely to eat more. #dontbcomplicit

    1. I would also have my doubts about removing the calories.

    2. What is amazing is that the folks that proclaim to live science are so quick to deny it when studies arrive that debunk their emotionally preferred result. Salt is a great example that has been disproved repeatedly of late, yet here is this supposed expert again trying to ensure decades old thinking doesn’t go to waste.

  15. There are still countries where eating together is a social activity that is enjoyed for its own sake. And is stretched out because people enjoy it. That doesn’t just have an effect on adults. Kids who spend more time staring at their plate – with adults and other kids around them slowly eating more different foods – end up sampling more types of food early and become much less picky eaters. Places with that mindset also tend to do school meals very differently – less pick-your-own cafeteria and more restauranty (where kids alternate serving and busing tables) which also means kids participate more in the family meals at home which means they eat more variety too. Even McD’s has to adapt to local tastes/habits in those countries.

    The notion that ‘laws’ will impose this is obviously silly – but it is a socialization process. American adults simply suck at that aspect of raising kids.

    1. When I went to Sweden for business, I was surprised that the whole company division ate lunch together everyday. That would never happen in the US.

      1. …thank God.

      2. If you had the cafeteria food where I work you wouldn’t dare eat with your coworkers.

  16. What’s the difference between a hamburger and fries at a fast food place at a sit down restaurant or at home (other than taste obviously)?

  17. The government should probably keep its yap shut on the subject of nutrition, since it’s been shown to have been terribly wrong on the subject in the recent past. As DajjaI points out, the actual evidence on the ‘evils’ of sodium in a diet is damned near non-existent. Hell, the evidence is sketchy even if somehow you’re a 14 year old with hypertension.

    Other once ‘evil’ foods which are now likely perfectly fine: saturated fats, egg yolks and other foods “high in cholesterol”, butter. I fear we might be heading down this same damned road with ‘gluten’ and ‘high carb’ foods.

    Thank god for the internet. I’m not sure I could have pulled off the big weight loss without the sound info on diet, nutrition and exercise gleaned from it.

    1. If being shown to be wrong were reason enough for government to keep its trap shut, it ought to remain silent about EVERYTHING.

      1. Kids were doing physically well until the government started mandating changes back in 72. definate correlation if not outright causation.

  18. I hope all the leftard contributors are Reason are hungry, because they’re going to be opening wide very soon!

    I bet Soave and Lizzie are probably down there at the Supreme Court protesting in their pink pussy hats as we speak.

    1. You spend enough time on this site that you should understand us Kavanaugh opponents a little better. The preferred wardrobe for these protests isn’t the pink pussy hat; it’s the red Handmaid’s Tale robe. Because if Kavanaugh gets confirmed, Orange Hitler will be that much closer to his dream of turning the US into a theocratic dictatorship. That’s one reason why libertarians need to vote Democrat ? to protect the SUPER-PRECEDENT Roe v. Wade.

      1. And that much closer to another four year re-do. You lost. Go, die in a fire.

        1. The progressive / libertarian alliance may have lost the Kavanaugh fight, but we’ll win the war. November’s #BlueTsunami will see Democrats win both houses of Congress. By this time in 2019, Mueller will have definitive proof of Russian collusion, and Drumpf will be kicked out of office.

        2. Hey Havahd. Fix your sarcasm/satire meter.

  19. I’m reading this at a McDonald’s. Road trip stop

    My kid(5) is lovin’ it

  20. What advocates wish is irrelevant.

    When I was an elementary school kid, my friend and I, whenever either of us started a sentence with “I wish…”
    would always get the same quote repeated by the other:

    “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.”

    The idea being that what one wishes is pretty useless. Life comes as it sees fit.

    1. Why would beggars want horses? And if they did have horses, wouldn’t they eat them? And if they could, wouldn’t horsemeat be the most common meat, since we could just get it by wishing? In fact, I doubt we’d ever have gotten into an industrial age if wishes were horses, since horses would be like, super common. And delicious. Dammit, now I want to eat a horse.

      1. Now we’re back to McDonald’s

  21. People are dumb and make dumb decisions no matter what you do. We get it.

  22. There are just 520 calories in a Happy Meal (hamburger, gogurt, 1% milk, and fries). If kids are getting fat, it’s because of everything else they’re eating, not the McDonalds.

    I find this to be a trend with critics of McDonalds. All of these fast casual places that are viewed as healthier alternatives (Chipotle, Qdoba, Roti, Cava, Shake Shack, etc.) may have fresher ingredients, but the portion sizes are gigantic compared to McDonalds. There’s just 540 calories in a Big Mac, 520 in a triple cheeseburger, etc. Even a double quarter pounder with cheese – the biggest burger on the standard menu – is just 770 calories. Most of these burritos and rice plates from the fast casual restaurants are coming in at 700+ calories.

    So I think the focus on McDonalds is misplaced. Eating 500 calories of burger at McDonalds could very well be more healthy than eating an 800 calorie burrito bowl from Chipotle (or 1100 calories if you’re getting the tortilla), even though the ingredients at Chipotle are more “fresh”.

    1. Chipotle got those sweet, sweet beans in them though. Get that delicious fiber.

    2. Chipotle has serious quality control issues. Multiple cases of food poisoning. McDonald’s has very strict QC and standards. The only cases of food poisoning have been from the salads.

      Studies have shown that fast food is safer than five star restaurants.

      1. I grew up in places when McD’s first expanded there. The cleanliness and hygiene standard was truly revolutionary in those places. It did save lives because it forced even low-price places and street carts to compete on that basis.

        But don’t pretend that that makes the FOOD better for you. The food – spec the glycemic load – basically creates the blood sugar volatility and insulin spikes that turns into pre-diabetes and obesity over time. The only thing in the meal that slows that blood sugar spike is the fat – no fiber, complex carbs, less protein than you think, no water in the food itself – so rarely does a fast food meal actually keep you sated for 6-8 hours (which is what you would need to burn the calories provided).

        No one has been able to make a picnic-style food place work – or maybe no one’s tried – which could be served very fast but take longer to eat than fast food and require more attention to the eating area. That sort of food would be closer to an actual meal. ‘Fast’ in our culture is more about the eating time than the serving time.

  23. Whatever happened to minding your own fucking business?

    1. “Whatever happened to minding your own fucking business?”

      These kind of people have no conception of anything NOT being their business.

  24. Welcome to the United States Supreme Court, associate justice Brett Kavanaugh!

    Also, go eat a big, fat, ginormous bag of dicks Welchie Boy, Goth Fonzie, Mango, Rico Soave, Lizzie the Lezzie, MacAdoodle, Dipshit Dalmia, Chapwoman, Shackturd, Little Boy Setyon, Boehmer, Whacky Mary Stack (in all of her 17 sockpuppet incarnations), Chony “Tony” Krugscum (I somehow forgot to mention you yesterday), sarcasmic, Chemjeff Status Quo Collectivist, and last but most certainly not least, our very own beloved Dipshit Dave Weigel.

    Now, time to go uncork this celebratory bottle of red wine baby, woo-hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Bourbon for me.

    2. Beer for Kavanaugh.

      1. With a side of ice. There are many targets for it now – – – – – –

    3. Crown royal.

      *nods to Rufus

  25. These guys still teaching that a high carb low fat diet is the way to go?

    1. Sadly, yes.

  26. Human beings aren’t rational. I’m sure that these “advocates” do things that experts in other fields would consider unwise.

  27. When I was a kid, my best friend’s mother would yell at us to stop playing video games and go outside and play.

    Now kids are too lazy to even play video games, they just watch other people play them on Twitch…

  28. Have you seen the “healthier” options though?
    Who would pick a rusty apple slide over hot greasy french fries?
    Gross Go-Gurt over an ice cold Coke or a shake?

      1. whats interesting is there are a lots of vitamins in potatoes and just as much fiber

  29. Removing sodium is stupid. It does nothing, unless your 6 year old has a heart condition.

  30. what these people don’t understand is that for many kids the least nutritious meal form McD is often more nutritious meal then they ever get at home

  31. No surprise. I used to own a vending business. The offices would always ask for healthier snacks in the machines but they didn’t sell. Chips and chocolate were money makers.

  32. Tell these people to quit trying to tell other people what they should eat. It’s fine you offer information about the foods offered, but after that it’s the public’s choice (or better said, it’s a personal choice) as to what they really want. The food is not going to kill you, it’s just extra calories, which most people can easily burn off. If they don’t, that’s still their business.

  33. What’s the difference between fast food and the mass Huge Corporate Farm produced garbage that fills your pantry?

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