Child-Directed Marketing Within and Around Fast-Food Restaurants

The fast-food industry spends $660 million to market its products to children and adolescents each year and spends the most on toys for kids’ meals—$360 million for the cost of toys alone.  These efforts help fast-food restaurants sell more than 1.2 billion kids’ meals annually, and those sales account for 20 percent of all foods and beverages sold for consumption by children.

This brief provides an overview of child-directed marketing within and around fast-food restaurants and examines how these marketing practices vary by neighborhood income and race and ethnicity. Researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Bridging the Gap national program collected data from 2,176 fast-food restaurants located in communities surrounding public middle and high schools in 2010.

As documented in the brief, they found that fast-food restaurants are significantly more likely to use child-directed marketing in majority Black neighborhoods than in racially diverse neighborhoods. They also found that indoor displays for kids’ meals toys are the most prevalent child-directed marketing strategy used by fast-food restaurants.

The brief describes related policy implications and discusses current efforts by industry and advocates aimed at changing child-directed marketing practices by fast-food companies.

About the Program

Bridging the Gap is a nationally recognized research program dedicated to improving the understanding of how policies and environmental factors influence diet, physical activity and obesity among youth, as well as youth tobacco use. The program identifies and tracks information at the state, community and school levels; measures change over time; and shares findings that will help advance effective solutions for reversing the childhood obesity epidemic and preventing young people from smoking. Bridging the Gap is a joint project of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Health Research and Policy and the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.