Pushing Happy Meals On The Poor

Roberto A. Ferdman flags research on class disparities – and, by extension, racial disparities – in fast-food marketing:

In a new study, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Arizona State lovinUniversity found that fast food chains in predominantly black neighborhoods were more than 60 percent more likely to advertise to children than in predominantly white neighborhoods. The researchers also found that fast food restaurants in middle- and low-income areas tended to direct their ads toward children more often than those in high-income neighborhoods, and those in rural communities tended to market their products to kids more often than those in more urban settings

“Fast food restaurants in black neighborhoods have significantly higher odds of using kids’ meal toy displays to market their products to children compared to restaurants in white neighborhoods,” said Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, the lead author of the study. “The associations we observe are troubling because we know that black children are at higher risk for consuming unhealthy diets including fast food, and have higher prevalence of obesity.”

Ferdman ends on a nanny-state note:

Given the public health stakes, it might be time to reconsider whether the industry is capable of regulating itself. “The companies will argue that they can’t control it if some people eat more fast food than others, but at the same time, they’re increasing the disproportionate demand through their marketing,” Harris said. “For that reason regulating marketing in fast food companies is the only way to solve this problem.”

But as a NYT report from last year indicates, companies like McDonald’s are doing just fine regulating themselves:

Under pressure to provide healthier meals, McDonald’s announced on Thursday that it would no longer market some of its less nutritional options to children and said it also planned to include offerings of fruits and vegetables in many of its adult menu combinations. …

This latest move by McDonald’s, which it estimated would cost about $35 million, is one in a series of steps it has taken toward changing its menu to suit contemporary tastes and to try to address health concerns raised for years by nutritionists and other critics about the fat and caloric content of its food. It has added calorie counts to its menu boards in advance of a federal requirement for such labeling that goes into effect next year, and now sells options like egg-white McMuffins and premium wraps, which offer a choice of grilled rather than fried chicken rolled into a flour tortilla with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The company also has faced rising competitive pressure from Subway, which has courted women aggressively with marketing promoting its healthier options, as well as from other chains. This week, Burger King unveiled a new way of making fries that reduced fat and calories, and earlier this year, that chain added a turkey burger to its menu. “We’ve been trying to optimize our menu with more fruits and vegetables and giving customers additional choices when they come to McDonald’s,” said Don Thompson, McDonald’s chief executive. He ticked off some of those additions, like smoothies, salads and whole grains in oatmeal.

Other marketing ideas from the company aren’t quite as cool, as Copyranter explains of the above images:

[The WSJ] reported that starting in January, McDonald’s is going to launch a new campaign tagged with the childish na-na-na-na-na na! line “Lovin’ Beats Hatin”. The entire internet immediately hate-shat on it. Then [last] week, McDonald’s said that they are not going to use it (yeah, we’ll see), but they did trademark two other phrases, above bottom, which are, as you can see, even more inane.