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Hot on the heels of my post about McDonald’s “nutrition workshops” comes this satisfying but mostly sad piece of research from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Satisfying because it supports the common-sense contention (and my argument in the McEducation post) that fast food does not offer the healthful options it claims. Only 12 of 3,039 meal combinations (from 12 chains) were considered nutritious for preschoolers. Only 15 met nutrition criteria for older kids. Twelve. Fifteen. Whatever. That’s out of 3,039. And that’s healthy by dietary-guidelines standards, not ingredients standards, so, really, those numbers should be zero.

Sad because the report reveals that 84% of parents take their child to a fast-food restaurant* at least once a week. (In addition: 40% of kids ages 2-11 ask to go to McDonald’s, specifically, at least once a week. And 15% of preschoolers ask to go to McDonald’s every day.) Sad because, despite fast-food companies’ pledges to change the way they market to kids, they instead seem to be ramping up.

Sad because, even though McDonald’s and Burger King show healthier sides and beverages in their child-targeted advertising, in reality the restaurants automatically serve french fries with kids’ meals at least 86% of the time, and soda at least 55% of the time. And sad because, as Time magazine notes in its story: “Constant exposure to fast-food marketing helps normalize the kind of eating behavior associated with such restaurants.”

(*Starbucks is included in the 12 chains, in which case I’m in that 84%, because I take my daughter to Starbucks at least once a week. But that’s because I’m picking up a red eye, not feeding her there. I’m not even sure why Starbucks was included, but I’m guessing it’s because a lot of older kids go there for the coffee drinks and pastries. I’m also betting most of that 84% was not talking about Starbucks.)

The bottom line: As Rudd Center director Kelly Brownell says in the Time article, change will come from either “public outcry or legislation.” Public outcry? We can do that.

If you’d like to comment about this research or the healthfulness of fast food, please visit that earlier post: “Forget Happy Meal toys. Let’s ban McEducation.” Even if you saw that post already and don’t have anything to add, the comments are worth checking out.  We even have some folks defending the nutrition workshops.

Update: AdvertisingAge magazine has a story about the fast-food industry’s response to the study.  Predictably, the “fast-feeders” (AdAge’s brilliant term) didn’t have much of a defense. 

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