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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hey, Critics of the Happy Meal Toy Ban: Banning Fast Food Advertising Does Work

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 8:02 AM

San Francisco came in for a heap of ridicule last year -- including some from this very paper -- when the Board of Supervisors passed a ban on selling fast-food meals containing toys. The sentiment intensified, of course, when McDonald's easily skirted the ban

Messages like ours have reached the industry, however. Under threat of possible federal regulations that would ban advertising of fast food to children, this summer, a group of major food-industry players -- including Hershey, McDonald's and Kraft -- agreed to voluntarily agree to only advertise to children products that met certain nutritional standards. The agreement is supposed to go into effect in 2013.

But a study published not long ago in the Journal of Marketing Research suggests a full-on ban on advertising would be even more effective. Researchers Tirtha Dhar and Kathy Baylis looked at fast-food consumption in Quebec from 1986 to 1992, a period when the provincial government banned fast-food advertising. 

Figuring that English-language families would be less affected by the ban, since they were able to watch TV programming broadcast from other provinces and the United States, the researchers looked only at French-language households. During those six years, fast-food consumption among French speakers dropped 13 percent. That's a considerable drop -- between 11 million and 22 million meals per year, the researchers estimated. 

And that's just in a relatively tiny, linguistically isolated market. Considering that the food industry spent $2.6 million in 2006 alone advertising to kids, a lot of kids would be eating a lot less hamburgers if the United States were able (ha!) to pass similar legislation. Will the industry's voluntary ban work? SFoodie suspects companies will find a thousand creative ways to flout its rules. San Francisco's botched toy ban might have been ineffective -- but it's not as ludicrous as its critics suggested.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodieand like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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