Not to drive-by post, but I wanted to bring this up. I don't have the numbers to back it up, but in the US, I'm willing to bet the average child goes to McD's more than that. McD's employees often have children, so there are the children that go to mom's work or whatever because mom gets a discount, plus stopping by McD's on the way to soccer/dance/football practice is kind of a thing. Fast food is awfully convenient for parents who don't want to cook.
Someone with access to large, paid subscription university journal databases could probably get more detailed data easier, but... I tend to agree.
It's not only convenience (which is important), but also the impact of marketing in general upon children especially (thus the toys?), and the provision of recreation facilities by such major chains (McDonald's is particularly famous for it). Some people might also think
McDonald's is relatively cheap, which is not necessarily accurate -- at least, not unless you really can live on dollar meals personally -- but it could be among the factors as well.
Here are just a few academic data points, trying to triangulate. These are not studies on McDonald's alone (they include various other chains considered "fast food"), but they give hints about the prevalence of those trends and the overall frequency of fast-food consumption.Baskin et al (2013) abstract
: "Caregiver perceptions of the food marketing environment of African-American 3–11-year-olds: a qualitative study." Public Health Nutrition
Vol. 16, Iss. 12.
Caregivers reported all aspects of the food marketing matrix as supporting unhealthy eating among African-American youth. Child preference for foods higher in fat and sugar, lower pricing of less healthy foods, limited access to healthier food retailers and targeted advertisements were particularly influential on the food selection, acquisition and consumption of children. Larson et al (2013) abstract
: "Secular Trends in Fast-Food Restaurant Use Among Adolescents and Maternal Caregivers From 1999 to 2010." American Journal of Public Health
Vol. 104, Iss. 5.
[Based on longitudinal Minneapolis-St. Paul surveys of both adolescent students and parents.]
The overall prevalence of frequent fast-food consumption, defined as 3 or more times per week, decreased from 1999 to 2010 among adolescents (1999: 25%; 2010: 19%; P < .001) and maternal caregivers (1999: 17%; 2010: 11%; P < .001), but sociodemographic disparities were apparent. For example, the prevalence of frequent fast-food consumption remained highest and did not significantly decrease among Black or Native American youths. The overall prevalence of frequent fast-food purchases for family meals did not significantly decrease; large decreases were observed only among Hispanic families (1999: 18%; 2010: 6%; P < .001).
Finally, if you're up for some hard quantitative details... Zagorsky (2014) -- unofficial draft (thank Google):
"Is it Really Just the Poor Who Eat Fast Food?" The Impact of Income and Wealth on U.S. Consumption.
This paper version might be a draft or presentation guide --- I'm really not quite sure, as I just lifted this particular PDF via Google raid. But I think it's fascinating, if you have the time to poke through it more. It's one way
to get figures on about how often, who, actually eats fast food. Again, I would think there are others -- perhaps more focused ones -- around for those who have the academic databases or the time to search. This is by an Ohio State professor known for large-sample survey work on food consumption. It is a very detailed
paper, drawing on Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys (longitudinal data from 1992 to 2012). It is not a study of children per se
-- it is a study of baby boomers -- but I think one can get around that somewhat if you accept, there is a certain relationship between people "in general" eating fast food and eating as families. I assume the kids you two are arguing about, are often going with their parents, who in turn were
quite a few of the survey respondents.
Just for example...
The typical young baby boomer ate fast food an average (mean) of 2.6 times in the 14 day period.
Eliminating the non-eaters and focusing just on young boomers who ever ate fast food, the
average rises to 3.6 times. Figure 4 shows the number of meals consumed at fast food
restaurants, broken down by income (cross-hatched columns) and wealth deciles (solid columns)
among all young boomers. The pattern is similar to figure 3. It shows relatively little variation
in eating fast food across the various income and wealth groups. The variation that does exist
reveals another inverted U shaped pattern with the poorest and richest eating the least (around
2.5 meals) and the middle class eating the most (around 3 meals).
(The graphs are not in the text body, but they are in an appendix to this version. Fig. 4 is on p. 23, for example.)