Children as young as age two are seeing more fast food ads than ever before according to a new study from Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
The study further finds that restaurants provide largely unhealthy defaults for the side dishes and drinks that come with kids' meals.
"Despite pledges to improve their marketing practices, fast food companies seem to be stepping up their efforts to target kids," said lead researcher Jennifer L Harris, PhD, MBA, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd center.
The report's authors studied marketing efforts of 12 of the nation's largest fast food chains, and examined the calories, fat, sugar and sodium in more than 3,000 kids' meal combinations and 2,781 menu items.
Their evaluation of marketing practices revealed that the fast food industry spent more than $4.2 billion on marketing and advertising in 2009, focusing extensively on television, the Internet, social media sites and mobile applications.
"Today, preschoolers see 21 per cent more fast food ads on TV than they saw in 2003, and somewhat older children see 34 per cent more," added Harris.