/ Food & Drink, Health, Parenting

Will banning fast food toys make kids healthier?

Kid eating junk food

San Francisco is planning to ban free toys with kids’ meals unless fast food outlets get healthier. Again, this puts the spotlight on kids’ food marketing – but we need creative ways to make healthy eating appealing.

This is an issue that we’ve worked on for years, pressing for a range of measures to make it easier to eat healthily.

And there have been some positive results – the UK has some of the toughest TV restrictions around targeting children with fatty, sugary and salty foods in the world.

Plus, some companies have taken voluntary steps to act more responsibly. KFC in the UK stopped giving away toys with children’s meals a few years ago. McDonalds and Burger King do still have toys, but have made efforts to improve their children’s meals and include healthier options. But that doesn’t mean that we can be complacent.

Toys make McHappy kids

Last year we did an investigation asking children what they ate at fast food restaurants and found they’re still eating large amounts of fat, sugar, salt and calories from fast food. Nearly 40% of 8- to 11-year-olds told us that McDonalds was their favourite because of the toys in happy meals.

TV controls may have been tightened, but there are still gaps in the rules. Children can still be targeted with less healthy foods using child-appealing techniques during their favourite programmes like The X Factor as many adults watch too so they aren’t covered. It can be hard to keep up with the vast range of integrated marketing techniques and media that are now used.

Which? always makes an effort to praise companies when they try to market genuinely healthier choices to children. But it’s depressing that these examples are still so few and far between. A walk around any supermarket will reveal just how the marketing efforts are stacked towards the less healthy options, rather than helping parents encourage children to appreciate the wholesome ones.

Make healthy eating appealing

Current industry initiatives cover some marketing tactics, but they generally only apply to younger children. Plus, they don’t include all marketing techniques and can have varying approaches to determine what’s too unhealthy. That’s why we still want to see more change.

Yes, it’s great that toys aren’t as free flowing in fast food chains, but tackling marketing alone won’t solve things. Other steps from improving food in schools, clearer labelling and offering interesting healthier choices are also needed.

The government has said it wants to see voluntary guidelines developed to cover non-broadcast marketing to children. The food industry needs to rise to this challenge, see it as a real opportunity to innovate, and use its creativity to help with efforts to make healthier choices appealing.

Should fast food chains ban kids toys?

Yes - toys encourage unhealthy eating (63%, 60 Votes)

No - kids will eat junk food anyway (37%, 35 Votes)

Total Voters: 95

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Simon says:
10 November 2010

I don’t see any point in banning the toys really. There is nothing wrong with eating McDonalds – you just have to do so in moderation, as an occasional treat. Teaching children to enjoy things in moderation is a more important lesson than trying to teach them to avoid unhealthy foods completely. People will always want to eat the unhealthy stuff sometimes because it tastes good (well, maybe not KFC).

Parents should take responsibility for the amount of fast food their children eat, not blame their diet on the fact there are toys in Happy Meals.

Sophie Gilbert says:
11 November 2010

We have to recognise that McDonald et al are experts at manipulating some kids into making some parents do what the kids want. Therefore banning fast food toys may go some way towards making kids healthier. Ultimately, however, I agree with Simon that it is also true that children should be taught that going to the junk food place should only be regarded as an exceptional treat (yes, most of us like to eat unhealthily from time to time) by their own parents, who must take control of what they feed their kids and assume responsibility for it.