Portrayed as a “stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” by watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), McDonald’s finds itself in the middle of a battle for the minds – and stomachs – of Happy Meal eating children everywhere. Of course, McDonald’s is defending itself by contending that their happy meals “provide wholesome food and toys of the highest quality and safety,” according to McDonald’s vice president of communications, William Whitman.
The CSPI contends that McDonald’s is breaking consumer protection laws by using toys to lure children into eating unhealthy fast food and developing poor eating habits. The CSPI intends to sue McDonald’s if it doesn’t stop these toy-related promotions within the next 30 days. CSPI claims the toys constitute unfair and deceptive marketing tactics and violate laws in New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and California.
CSPI Claims McDonald’s Uses “Bait and Switch” Tacticsto Lure Kids
According to CSPI, McDonald’s uses the perceived recognizeability and celebrity of a toy, lovable cartoon character, or motion picture in order to promote the purchase of it’s Happy Meals. McDonald’s contends it has done nothing wrong because they offer some healthy alternatives like milk and apple dippers rather than the more typical unhealthy fries and soft drinks. In 2009, McDonald’s claims they served three times the amount of milk served in 2004.
CSPI claims that simply making healthy alternatives available to a consumer group that has little or no knowledge of the health risks involved and may not be developmentally advanced enough to resist the marketing. In spite of nutritional claims made by the fast food giant, CSPI claims that McDonald’s tactics are “predatory and wrong.” CSPI says that kids will choose french fries over apple dippers 9 out of 10 times.
Healthy Choice David vs. Fast Food Goliath
This isn’t the first time CSPI has gone up against the corporate giants. Just the threat of a lawsuit against cereal giant Kelloggs was enough to make that corporation agree to a settlement which set new nutrition standards for their foods marketed to children. They also were instrumental in getting KFC to stop using unhealthy hydrogenated vegetable oil loaded with trans fat and change the entire KFC system over to a healthy, trans fat free alternative oil. Based on the success of those two cases, it is very likely that CSPI will forge ahead and indeed take McDonald’s to court next month.
The Connection Between Fast Food and Childhood Obesity
With childhood obesity rates tripling over the past 30 years, something has to be done and soon. It’s not fair to lay this entire mess at the feet of the fast food industry, but it does seem like they make it real easy for kids to get a hold of unhealthy food. The Federal Trade Commission found that McDonald’s alone spent $520 million in advertising just for children. They make it real hard to resist their food.
There are many factors involved in the rise of childhood obesity, diet and eating habits foremost among them. There are also kids who use food as a comfort or defense against situations beyond their control, or kids who eat to cope with stress. Family problems may also be a factor in kids developing unhealthy eating habits. Some kids who have a family history of obesity need even more help.
Whatever the reason for the 300% increase in obese kids, it needs to be stopped. Is there a link between marketing toys and getting kids to eat unhealthy fast food? Perhaps. But the real responsibility begins and ends with parents and caregivers who are concerned that a generation of kids are learning to be fat and eventually sick. What are you going to do about that?
WebMD.com; McDonald’s May Face Suit Over Happy Meal Toys
CDC.com; Childhood Obesity