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Today, the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University released Fast Food FACTS, a comprehensive study of fast-food nutrition and marketing to youths. There are a couple of findings that are particularly striking to me—as a mom, as a doctor and as someone who’s working to improve health for all in our country.

The report shows that children as young as 2 are seeing more fast-food ads than ever before and that fast-food companies are specifically targeting Black and Latino youths – young people who already have high rates of obesity.

In addition, fast-food restaurants rarely offer parents the healthy choices for their kids’ meals. For instance, even companies that show only healthy side dishes and beverages in their ads to children automatically serve french fries with kids’ meals at least 86 percent of the time and soft drinks at least 55 percent of the time.

Fast food is a ubiquitous part of our nation’s modern landscape. Last year, fast-food companies spent $4.2 billion dollars to promote their products in the United States, and consumers spent $137 billion on fast food.

Imagine if similar resources were devoted to developing healthier products, marketing those products, and making those products widely available. Wouldn’t it be great if kids’ meals automatically came with apple slices instead of fries, or if the cashier asked, “Would you like apples with that?”

While fast food isn’t the only cause of childhood obesity, this new report underscores the importance of reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to kids and making sure healthier options are easily accessible to parents and children wherever they dine.

Until that happens, parents should demand the healthy items in kids’ meals—like apple slices and low-fat milk—and they should let fast-food companies know they don’t want them using games, toys and popular characters to lure their children toward unhealthy habits.

In the words of one fast-food slogan, let the fast food companies know that you want to “have it your way.”

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., is president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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