26 October 2010

Campaign to retire Ronald McDonald sees progress in effort to ban 'Happy Meal' toys

A few months ago, I wrote about a campaign whose aim is to send Ronald McDonald off to a swift retirement. I am excited to say that an encouraging event occurred in the forward thinking city of San Francisco earlier this month.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee voted 3-0 in favor of an ordinance to limit toy giveaways in children’s meals that have excessive calories, sodium and fat. In the coming weeks, the vote will go to the the full Board. If it passes there, San Francisco will become the first city in the nation to take such action!

McDonald’s has been selling its "Happy Meals" to innocent children since 1979. Ronald McDonald has been a prime accomplice in this marketing tactic that has undoubtably contributed to the rising rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“Each year, fast food chains sell more than a billion children’s meals with toys to children ages 12 or younger. Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are still climbing, and among children of color in particular. Restaurants in San Francisco should be providing healthful food choices for our families,” said ordinance sponsor Supervisor Eric Mar. “This is a challenge to the industry to think about children’s health first.”

Every year, McDonald’s, as well as its competitors, pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a marketing strategy that yields them very high returns, all at the expense of children’s health. It has been hypothesized that reducing even ONE form of predatory marketing, such as television advertisements, could reduce the number of overweight U.S. children and adolescents by nearly 20 percent.

“Though McDonald’s and its competitors could spare the health of millions in the years ahead, by losing the mascots, the toys, and other gimmicks that hook kids on unhealthy food for a lifetime, they are instead taking the low road,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International. “But the public relations shell game is wearing thin with a public hungry for solutions and fed-up with spin.”

A gathering of McDonald's Corporation executives pounced on city hall to argue that the intended legislation is a heavy-handed effort that threatens the company's decades-old business model and the free choice of its customers. I had to laugh at the defense offered by McDonald's vice president for nutrition and menu strategy, Karen Wells. She argued that denying a toy to a child would undermine the authority of parents to decide what their children should eat. Maybe I am wrong, but I would suggest that tempting a child with a toy is undermining the authority of parents... am I missing something here? Another sad showing was made by Cynthia Goody, McDonald's nutrition director, who stated there was no evidence that childhood obesity would be reduced by requiring a fruit or vegetable with all meals. In response, a supervisor asked what mix of foods would lower childhood obesity. Goody said she would need to conduct more research to provide an answer.

Seriously? I think even a CHILD could answer that last question...

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Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and Facebook.

Photo credit: Corporate Accountability International