Pretty soon one won’t be surprised to hear that a baby’s first words are “Big Mac.” A new study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has found that fast food companies spent more than $4.2 billion on marketing and advertising in 2009 and the advertising is primarily aimed at children as young as two. The push to target children seems to be working.

According to the study, forty percent of children ages 2 to 11 ask their parents to go to McDonald’s at least once a week, and 15 percent of preschoolers ask to go every day.

While fast food chains are advertising healthy meal and food alternatives, their options are sparse; only 12 of the 3,000 possible meal combinations found at eight different fast food restaurants meet Yale’s nutrition criteria for preschoolers and only 15 for older children. Even with the healthy options McDonald’s and Burger King are found to automatically serve french fries and soft drinks at least 55% of the time.

The study did not focus on how advertising affects the even older children (namely, us, college students) but perhaps late-night cravings for French fries suggests we are not immune to the delightfully unhealthy fast foods either.

[via ABC]