The growth of restaurant chains offering fast food is not a new trend in the United States. The thoughtless consumption of junk food by common Americans and giant corporations’ marketing efforts are widely criticized by activists and researchers. The potential problems associated with the industry’s influences on children include aggressive marketing, limited efforts to make food more appropriate for developing learners, and the risks of unhealthy eating habits.
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Aggressive and ubiquitous marketing of fast food cannot go unnoticed by children due to their natural curiosity. In the article titled “What We Eat,” Schlosser (2012) reviews this problematic aspect of the fast-food industry. According to survey research, around 96% of school-age American children can easily identify Ronald McDonald, which makes the symbol of McDonald’s “more widely recognized than the Christian cross” (Schlosser, 2012, p. 4). Some would probably find Schlosser’s argument to be an exaggeration, but there are personal examples to demonstrate the increased impact of fast food commercials on children’s mindset and knowledge. My cousin works as a primary school teacher and has noticed that her students easily recollect famous songs from fast food commercials, including “Two All-Beef Patties,” whereas remembering other educational songs can be problematic. Considering this, junk food advertising affects children to a large extent, which indicates its growing cultural power.
Another challenge is that the youngest customers’ unique nutritional needs are not always reflected in offerings for kids. Schlosser (2012) highlights that fast-food meals are heavily advertised to children but are designed and prepared by people who are “barely older than children” (p. 9). For instance, McDonald’s Happy Meal is advertised as a relatively healthy menu option for children. However, when visiting the restaurant with my friend and her seven-year-old son, I have noticed that chicken McNuggets and French fries in the meal are not substantially different from what is intended for older consumers. They are similar to regular menu options in terms of fat, salt, and flavor-intensifying components, whereas the most obvious change is the serving size. It is doubtful that the concept of fast-food restaurants is compatible with the developing organism’s nutritional needs, such as a wide variety of fresh vegetables and steamed and boiled foods.
The possible influence of fast food on children’s eating habits is also problematic. As Schlosser (2012) states, “much of the taste and aroma of American fast food… is now manufactured at large chemical plants” (p. 7). Schlosser’s discussion does not pay enough attention to the fact that flavor intensifiers can be used outside the fast-food industry as well. However, there are real-life examples to point to junk food’s potential role in the formation of food addictions in children. Particularly, after trying McDonald’s classic burger for the first time, one of my youngest relatives concluded that home-cooked meat and vegetable meals were not that tasty and even refused to eat them for some time. Therefore, the industry’s impact on children’s attitudes to food and the culture of nutrition may require close consideration.
To sum up, the industry’s influences on children deserve special attention and research from the viewpoint of health. The excessive advertising of fast food targeted at children and the inability to introduce actually healthy menu options for young consumers are unlikely to promote health. Moreover, fast food is supposed to be tastier than regular home-cooked meals, which may affect children’s dietary choices and eating behaviors.
Schlosser, E. (2012). What we eat. In Fast-food nation: The dark side of the all-American meal (pp. 3-10). Mariner Books.