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Fast Food

Food brand ownership

Marketing may influence how often parents feed their children fast food, according to a study by Sonya A. Grier, an associate professor of marketing at American University’s Kogod School of Business,” reports the website.1

The study, titled “Fast-Food Marketing and Children’s Fast-Food Consumption: Exploring Parents’ Influences in an Ethnically Diverse Sample,” published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, explains:

Parents influence children’s eating habits through their implicit and explicit modeling of food consumption behavior (Fisher and Birch 1995). For example, the children of parents who consume fruits and vegetables do the same (Nicklas et al. 2001). Likewise, the children of parents who consume large amounts of fast food may also do the same. Thus, parents influence children’s eating habits through the foods they purchase for and serve in the household, as well as through their selection of places to eat and foods to buy. From this perspective, parents influence children’s exposure to particular foods and potentially their habits and preferences. Children who develop particular habits and preferences in childhood may establish them as a lifelong pattern. Research on intergenerational influences demonstrates how information, beliefs, and resources are transmitted from one generation to the next and implies a particular mechanism by which parents’ attitudes and beliefs related to fast food affect children’s fast-food consumption (Moore, Wilkie, and Lutz 2002). Parents’ brand preferences create comfort in children and set the stage for compliance with their children’s request for a brand (McNeal 1999). The formation of children’s attitudes and beliefs about fast food in the context of family life may imbue the attitudes and beliefs with sustaining characteristics over time (Moore, Wilkie, and Lutz 2002). Accordingly, the fast-food industry focuses on children because childhood memories of fast-food products may translate into adult visits (McNeal 1999; Schlosser 2001). However, the indirect aspect of fast-food marketing to parents as an influence on children’s consumption behavior is less well studied (Lindsay et al. 2006; Ward, Wackman, and Wartella 1977).2

Krista Conger at Stanford News notes an experiment measuring children’s desire for a specific product:

Asked to sample two identical foods from the fast-food giant McDonald’s, children preferred the taste of the version branded with the restaurant’s familiar “Golden Arches” to one extracted from unmarked paper packaging, say researchers at the School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.…

“Kids don’t just ask for food from McDonald’s,” said Thomas Robinson, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Packard Children’s and associate professor of pediatrics and of medicine at the School of Medicine. “They actually believe that the chicken nugget they think is from McDonald’s tastes better than an identical, unbranded nugget.” 3

“Food scientists have a variety of ways for changing the attributes of agricultural commodities to match consumer wants, write Rex F. Daly and Marguerite C. Burk:

Examples are meat which is enzyme-tenderized on the hoof, enrichment and fortification with synthetic nutrients, and the combination of soy products with wheat flour and with pulverized meats as protein supplements and binders and soybean meat analogs.

Geneticists are working on problems such as how to reduce fat and cholesterol content of eggs and milk.4

“Despite the illusion of a gradual switch to a healthier menu containing salads and smoothies, McDonald’s line-up still contains nasty health-eroding chemicals: trans-fats, high levels of sugar, artificial sweeteners, petro-chemicals, and high-fructose corn syrup,” reports The Idealist Revolution website. “The kids meals and salads also contain frightening ingredients and high levels of sugar”:

It’s incredible what synthetic chemicals they add to salads, chicken meals, burgers, and even to their drinks. Did you know that many of their foods and drinks contain tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), a chemical preservative that is so deadly that just five grams is fatal? One gram of TBHQ can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.…

Almost all foods on McDonald’s menu contain hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, that are also harmful to the body because they damage your tissues and raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol. Did you know that if a food manufacturer’s food contains less than 0.5g of trans-fats then it doesn’t have to legally list trans-fats on the label?

Here is just one example of what McDonalds put in their foods. The unhealthful ingredients in McDonalds’ Chicken nuggets (straight from the McDonalds’ web site) include:

  • sodium phosphates;
  • bleached wheat flour (nutrients removed);
  • food starch-modified (likely genetically-modified);
  • dextrose (sugar);
  • partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cottonseed oil with mono-and diglycerides, (trans fats);
  • Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil) (trans fats);
  • TBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleium dervived [sic] product;
  • Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent (a form of silicone used in cosmetics, and Silly Putty).5

The Xtreme Eating Awards, “‘reward’ the American chain restaurant dishes with the highest calorie, fat and sodium counts,” writes Riddhi Shah. The Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2010 explains:

“One might think that chains like Outback Steakhouse and The Cheesecake Factory might want to lighten up their meals now that calories will be required on their menus, courtesy of the health care reform law signed in March,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But these chains don’t promote moderation. They practice caloric extremism, and they’re helping make modern-day Americans become the most obese people ever to walk the Earth.” 6

Shah continues:

What’s most striking about the Xtreme Eating Awards is not the calorie count itself — we’d be fools to expect anything less in a land that throws up gems like Arizona’s Heart Attack Grill — it’s the way restaurants have managed to camouflage unhealthy meals as dishes that sound like paragons of healthful deliciousness.7

Kelly Brownell, professor of psychology and public health at Yale University proposes we view the processed-food industry as a public health menace:

“As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.” 8


1 “Marketing May Influence How Often Parents Feed Children Fast Food,” American University, 24 January 2008, at (retrieved: 15 July 2012).

2 Sonya A. Grier, Janell Mensinger, Shirley H. Huang, Shiriki K. Kumanyika, and Nicolas Stettler, “Fast-Food Marketing and Children’s Fast-Food Consumption: Exploring Parents’ Influences in an Ethnically Diverse Sample,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, January 2008, at (retrieved: 15 July 2012).

3 Krista Conger, “McDonald’s has a hold on preschoolers’ taste buds,” Stanford News, 8 August 2007, at (retrieved: 13 March 2016).

4 Rex F. Daly and Marguerite C. Burk, “The Task Ahead for Food and Fiber,” in The Yearbook of Agriculture 1971: A Good Life for More People (U. S. Department of Agriculture, 1971), p. 263.

5 “McDonalds Fast Food: Toxic Ingredients Include Putty and Cosmetic Petrochemicals,” The Idealist Revolution of the Minds, 4 December 2012, at (retrieved: 20 December 2012).

6 “And the Envelope, Please: The 2010 Xtreme Eating Awards Go To…” Center of Science in the Public Interest, 25 May 2010, at (retrieved: 17 November 2013); See also Jayne Hurley and Bonnie Liebman, “Xtreme Eating 2010,” June 2010, at (retrieved: 17 November 2013).

7 Riddhi Shah (, “The Unhealthiest Restaurant Chain in America,”, 10 November 2013, at (retrieved: 17 November 2013).

8 Michael Moss, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” The New York Times, 20 February 2013, at (retrieved: 20 March 2013).

See also

Fisher, Jennifer and Leann Birch (1995), “Fat Preferences and Fat Consumption of 3- to 5-Year-Old Children Are Related to Parental Adiposity,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 7, 759–64.

Nicklas, Theresa A., Tom Baranowski, Janice C. Baranowski, Karen Cullen, Latroy Rittenberry, and Norma Olvera (2001), “Family and Child-Care Provider Influences on Preschool Children’s Fruit, Juice, and Vegetable Consumption,” Nutrition Reviews, 59 (7), 224–35.

Moore, Elizabeth S., William L. Wilkie, and Richard J. Lutz (2002), “Passing the Torch: Intergenerational Influences as a Source of Brand Equity,” Journal of Marketing, 66 (April), 21–37.

McNeal, James U. (1999), The Kids Market: Myths and Realities. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Market Publishing.

Schlosser, Eric (2001), “When Bigger Isn’t Better,” San Francisco Chronicle, (April 22), WB1.

Lindsay, Ana C., Katarina M. Sussner, Juhee Kim, and Steven Gortmaker (2006), “The Role of Parents in Preventing Childhood Obesity,” Future of Children, 16 (1), 169–86.

Ward, Scott, Daniel B. Wackman, and Ellen Wartella (1977), How Children Learn to Buy. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

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