Student Well-Being

When Big Mac Fights Big Bird

By Ross Brenneman — November 08, 2013 1 min read
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Children and fast food go together like a peanut butter-and-pickle sandwich: It makes sense at some level but isn’t necessarily recommended.

Yet an extensive marketing operation by the fast-food industry continues to gain the attention of children, according to an extensive new report by the Yale Rudd Center, released Tuesday, which shows how strong the Big Grease advertising machine is. Fast food at night and healthy food at school—no mixed messages here, right?

While the study shows that some kids’ meals are getting healthier, and that TV advertising by a certain Golden Arch-represented behemoth fell over the past year, spending on fast food outpaces spending on produce by a lot.

And the social media presence of fast-food providers boomed. Since 2010, the average activity on fast-food Facebook pages skyrocketed, with many places tripling the number of posts per week. Domino’s had just over four per week in 2010, but in 2013, that number went to over 14 posts per week. McDonald’s barely had any in 2010, and is now at six per week. (The company had eight this last week.)

Whether or not that advertising is specifically aimed at children, it’s bound to find them, and “Got Broccoli?” commercials are few and far between. Some schools are making bold attempts to press students on healthy food, yet the Yale study shows that child-health advocates have a major financial gap to overcome.

But lo, (Anti-) Happy (Meal) warriors, hope looms on the horizon, for First Lady Michele Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign plans to counter money with Muppets. As Politico reports this week, the White House has announced a two-year character-licensing agreement between Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association.

That’s two years of Elmo hawking strawberries, Big Bird brandishing broccoli, or Oscar the Grouch ... well, maybe it’s better not to associate produce with the trash can. (On the other hand, it’s a great way to teach children about compost piles.) Sex sells to adults, but Sesame Street sells to children.

What groups want to stop pollution? Throw some Power Rangers on a recycling bin and maybe we can start saving the whales.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.