BOSTON, MA - July 26 - Advocates and health professionals are responding to announced changes to McDonald’s Happy Meals by calling on the corporation to take a further and critical step: stop its marketing of junk food to children altogether.
“McDonald’s deserves credit for not only taking these steps, but for acknowledging its role in today’s epidemic of diet-related disease in so doing,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International. “It’s a good first step, however the corporation has yet to address the central issue, its aggressive brand marketing to kids. And so long as burgers, fries, and soda offerings to kids, alongside toys, remain central to that brand, health professionals will continue to call for the marketing to stop.”
McDonald’s announcement comes in response to pressure from Corporate Accountability International and its allies, who have in recent months partnered with more than 1700 health professionals and institutions on a national grassroots and media campaign calling on the corporation to stop marketing junk food to kids.
Corporate Accountability International also helped pass a Healthy Meals Incentive law in San Francisco limiting toy giveaways to kids’ meals that meet a basic nutritional standard. A similar measure is now awaiting a hearing in New York City. The corporation is also fighting a lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest in California contending that such marketing is in violation of consumer protection laws.
On the national level, the Federal Trade Commission, buoyed by public interest organizations, has advanced children’s food and beverage marketing guidelines over the vehement objections of the fast food industry, its suppliers, trade associations, and advertising agencies.
The public and political pressure has compelled the most profitable global fast food chain to announce this week that it will be adding a fruit or vegetable to every Happy Meal and reducing the portion size of French fries in each meal.
Doctors are urging the corporation not to use these steps, however, to develop new ways to market a generally unhealthy brand to kids. McDonald’s and its competition have a track record of marketing “healthier” offerings, like apple slices with a sugary caramel dipping sauce, as “healthy.” The world’s most profitable fast food chain has also artfully used “healthier” offerings as a vehicle for selling a higher volume of its bread and butter: burgers, fries, and soda to kids. And to illustrate the point, the corporation has already announced it will include a “nutritional” message in any advertising, marketing or packaging materials directed at children.
“Parents don’t need the world’s leading junk food brand giving advice on nutrition to their kids,” said Dr. Victor Strasburger, Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at University of New Mexico School of Medicine. “This is information best left to parents and health professionals to provide.”
Strasburger is among the growing number of health professionals to sign the open letter to McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner calling for the corporation to stop marketing junk food to kids. Corporate Accountability International will continue to publicize the letter housed at LetterToMcDonalds.org until the corporation takes additional steps to reduce its advertising.
Each year the corporation spends well over $400 million marketing directly to children. Such marketing helped the fast food industry at large sell more than $5.5 billion in kids’ meals in the last year alone. A growing body of research linking junk food marketing to the alarming rates of diet-related conditions like diabetes has also recently led leading public health institutions like the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend fast food corporations stop marketing junk food to kids.
“McDonald’s is taking steps in the right direction, but we should be careful in heaping praise on corporations for simply reducing the scope of the problem they continue to create,” said Louaillier. “Ultimately corporate responsibility is not about securing public relations for cleaning up your own mess, but for not creating the problem in the first place. In this case, that means stopping the marketing of junk food to kids.”