CBS: Government Needed to Stop Fast Food Industry That Wants to 'Get Kids Hooked'

At the top of Monday's CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric warned viewers: "They promised to fight childhood obesity, but the biggest chains may be working harder than ever to get kids hooked on fast foods." Moments later she touted a new study: "...the big chains promised to help fight childhood obesity, but a report out today suggests they've done the exact opposite."

Couric fretted over the findings: "...out of more than 3,000 possible kids meal combinations at the major chains, only 12 meet nutritional guidelines for pre-schoolers....last year, children between the ages of 6 and 11 saw 26% more ads for McDonald's than they did just two years earlier." Correspondent Ben Tracy attacked the marketing strategy: "First there's the hot new movie kids just have to see....Then there's the fast food movie toy tie in they just have to get. And with the toys come this, a Happy Meal packed with calories and fat....a happy deal for marketers but an unhealthy one for children."

Later in his report, Tracy played a clip of Allen Kanner, co-founder of the Campaign For A Commerical-Free Childhood, who proclaimed: "The industry has been promising for years that it would do something about this. Self-regulation is a trick. It's a farce. It's a joke." Tracy followed that sound bite by declaring: "Which is why some think government needs to get involved. San Francisco just banned restaurants from handing out toys with meals if they contain more than 600 calories and more than 10% saturated fat."

In a statement on his organization's website, Kanner launches into anti-capitalist rant against corporations: "...this psychological assault on our country’s youth is itself part of a larger development.  For the commercialization of childhood flows inexorably from the massive expansion of corporate power and corporate culture that both America and the world have witnessed in the last few decades....the most effective way to protect our children from the toy industry is for us to join those who oppose economic globalization."

Tracy noted how "McDonald's and Burger King both say they're only going to show their so-called 'better for you' items in their advertising from now on." However, he lamented the burden on parents to request those healthier items: "[They] really have to ask for these things. If you simply go in and order the kids meal, you're still likely to get fries and soda."  

After Tracy's report, Couric shared some viewer reactions via Facebook: "William Lewis told us 'they don't care about the children, all they care about is what goes in the cash register.' But Michelle Poole reflects the views of many we've heard from, writing 'quit blaming the food industry, blame the parents, they teach their children bad eating habits.'"

Here is a full transcript of the November 8 segment:

6:30PM ET TEASE:

KATIE COURIC: Tonight, they promised to fight childhood obesity, but the biggest chains may be working harder than ever to get kids hooked on fast foods.

6:30PM ET SEGMENT:

COURIC: In a perfect world, American families would gather each night about now for a healthy home-cooked meal. But for an increasing number of people, dinner is often fast food. Three years ago, the big chains promised to help fight childhood obesity, but a report out today suggests they've done the exact opposite. It's the most comprehensive study ever into fast food nutrition and marketing. It shows that out of more than 3,000 possible kids meal combinations at the major chains, only 12 meet nutritional guidelines for pre-schoolers. 12 out of 3,000. And last year, children between the ages of 6 and 11 saw 26% more ads for McDonald's than they did just two years earlier. More now from Ben Tracy.

[CLIP FROM MOVIE 'MEGAMIND']

WILL FERRELL: If you haven't noticed, you've fallen right into my trap.

BEN TRACY: First there's the hot new movie kids just have to see.

BRAD PITT: Megamind!

FERRELL: Oh, bravo!

[MCDONALD'S COMMERCIAL]

FERRELL: I must have it!

TRACY: Then there's the fast food movie toy tie in they just have to get. And with the toys come this, a Happy Meal packed with calories and fat.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They want to see the movie, they want the toys, and you know, it was a plus, they can get something to eat, they can get a toy.

TRACY: It's, of course, a happy deal for marketers but an unhealthy one for children. A standard McDonald's Happy Meal of chicken McNuggets, small fries, and juice drink has 510 calories, 22 grams of sugar, and 23 grams of fat. Burger King's cheese burger kids meals contain 580 calories, even more sugar and slightly less fat. By comparison, Subway's turkey sub kids meal has 325 calories, more sugar, but just 2.5 grams of fat.

COMMERCIAL: Burger King is connected to the kids meal!

TRACY: The fast food industry spent $4.2 billion on advertising last year, and it's not just TV, McDonald's has 13 different websites. Each month, 365,000 kids and 294,000 teens visit those sites.

JENNIFER HARRIS [YALE UNIVERSITY RUDD CENTER FOR FOOD POLICY & OBESITY]: You look at television alone, the average pre-schooler sees 2.8 ads on TV for fast food everyday.

TRACY: And the ads do work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Every time we pass by it he'll say he wants to go in.

TRACY: 40% of young children ask to go to McDonald's every week. 15% of pre-schoolers ask everyday. So 84% of parents say they've taken their kids for fast food at least once in the past week.

ALLEN KANNER [CO-FOUNDER,,CAMPAIGN FOR A COMMERCIAL-FREE CHILDHOOD]: The industry has been promising for years that it would do something about this. Self-regulation is a trick. It's a farce. It's a joke.

TRACY: Which is why some think government needs to get involved. San Francisco just banned restaurants from handing out toys with meals if they contain more than 600 calories and more than 10% saturated fat. In a written statement, McDonald's told us they 'remain committed to responsible marketing practices, including advertising and promotional campaigns for our youngest customers. We are proud of our menu.' Now, McDonald's and Burger King both say they're only going to show their so-called 'better for you' items in their advertising from now on. That's things like low-fat milk at McDonald's, these apple slices at Burger King. But, you know, parents really have to ask for these things. If you simply go in and order the kids meal, you're still likely to get fries and soda. Katie.

COURIC: Ben Tracy in Los Angeles. Ben, thank you. And we received several comments about this story on Facebook. William Lewis told us 'they don't care about the children, all they care about is what goes in the cash register.' But Michelle Poole reflects the views of many we've heard from, writing 'quit blaming the food industry, blame the parents, they teach their children bad eating habits.'

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC