Parents resent use of toys to sell fast food

 06 Mar 2017 - 9:32

Parents resent use of toys to sell fast food
File picture used for representation.

By Sanaullah Ataullah | The Peninsula

With the Ministry of Public Health set to curb unhealthy food marketing practices to promote healthy eating, parents have raised concern over free toys and other giveaways along with children’s meal. The Ministry is mulling a ban on use of toys for promoting unhealthy food by various fast food restaurants.

“A ministerial decision is being prepared for fast food restaurants to curb use of toys to market children’s meals,” Al Sharq said in a recent report quoting Dr Sheikha Al Anoud bint Mohammed Al Thani, Director of Health Promotion and Non-Communicable Diseases.

In a vast majority of restaurants, children’s meals do not meet nutrition standards. Often, restaurant toys or premiums are tied to cartoon characters and this practice has been shown to affect children’s food choices and preferences.

Marketing aimed at children puts their long-term health at risk by enticing them to eat food items that are low in nutrition, and also unhealthy. Parents who shared their concerns with The Peninsula demanded a ban on meals packed with toys and to stop other activities at fast-food-restaurants like play-area in a bid to discourage unhealthy eating habits.

“Parents often have to listen to the pleading of children to stop by at a local fast food restaurant for a meal because of the toy being offered. In marketing, children are the easiest targets and that is why we have a good number of advertisements featuring children. Hence,this is one of the strongest marketing tools these outlets use,” said a parent who specialises in marketing. 

One of the most powerful marketing tools that fast food restaurants use is the promise of a toy with the purchase of any kids' meal. The food inside the meal is far less important to most of the children than the toy that comes along with it. 

“My four-year-old daughter is very fond of fast food, especially those which have toys. She insists on going to fast food restaurants frequently and at times make me promise to take her to such places on weekends,” said Mohamad Mustaqim, father of two children.

“Usually, as soon as she enters the restaurant, she goes to the board showcasing the toy of the week and those coming over the following weeks. I have also noted that my daughter loves to go to the soft play-area at her favourite restaurant. She thinks that weekend celebration is incomplete without visiting her favourite resultant, and getting a toy from there,” said Mustaqeem.

When fast food restaurants offer versions of the most popular toys in the market, children want to eat the food so they can get the toy. However, most of the time, the toy is not the issue but the lack of nutrients in the food causes the concern. Important nutrients as vitamins and minerals are missing in these food items that are often fatty and sugary. 

“Many fast food restaurants go so far as to offer a character aimed toward girls and a different character aimed toward boys. Banning toys for marketing unhealthy foods among children would help discourage such meals. With increasing health awareness in the community, people have started avoiding fast food,” said a Qatari woman.

“The fast food culture is much prevalent in the local community. Parents who grew up by eating fast food would find it difficult to cut these food items from the family meals altogether, unless and until they get some serious health issues,” the Qatari woman added.

Meanwhile, some parents have urged the authorities to ban chocolates and candies that are marketed offering free toys.

“If we take a harsh stand, we might be able to avoid fast food and stop visiting such facilities. But what about these candies and chocolates that are packed with toys to attract the children?” asked John, a European, who has three children.

“How can we avoid such products that are available in almost all the groceries and other shopping facilities? Thanks to the good advertisements in the media, my son is much addicted to an egg-shaped chocolate that comes with a toy inside. He buys it just to assemble the pieces and then leaves it after a few minutes. The chocolate that used to buy it just to assemble some small pieces and he throws the toy within few minutes,” he said.

These kinds of toys contained in chocolates and other candies have been banned in a number of countries, mainly out of fear that children might mistake the toys for food and swallow them.

“The marketing tactics of fast food restaurants like offering free toys in meal packs, colourful balloons, soft play areas, bouncing castles, arrangements of birthday parties on very attractive prices all hook children to these facilities,” said Abu Abdullah, an Arab national.

“Most of the children find it difficult to stay long in public parks and open playgrounds. My children force me to take them to fast food restaurants after spending a few hours in public parks during weekends,” he said.
Meanwhile, unfavourable weather conditions here often force parents to take their children to fast-food-restaurants offering free soft-play-areas, said another father.

The World Health Organization warns that the push to market fast food to children has been “disastrously effective” and has ultimately contributed to the global obesity epidemic. Hence, WHO has developed a set of 12 recommendations, endorsed by the World Health Assembly, aimed at reducing the impact of marketing foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or salt, to children.

“Advertising and other forms of food and beverage marketing to children are widespread across the world and are influencing children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns. A significant amount of this marketing is for products with a high content of fat, sugars or salt, consumption of which may increase the risk of overweight, obesity or certain noncommunicable diseases,” WHO states.

Hence Qatari government’s move to curb unhealthy food marketing practices, would help to reduce and prevent childhood overweight and obesity, if the ministerial decision is approved.