The Progressive


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Shareholders Vote for McDonald's to Assess Its Health Impacts

Moms, health professionals call for junk food giant to leave hospitals, stop marketing to kids


Today shareholders voted on a resolution requiring McDonald's to assess whether it's doing enough to address increasing concerns and pressure to limit the fast-food environment. The resolution received a 6.3 percent vote; an impressive showing considering the Board's opposition.

The vote comes as mounting public pressure, local food policies and sagging sales conspire to dampen McDonald's prospects if it doesn't change course in responding to today's epidemic of diet-related disease - an epidemic advocates of the resolution say is being driven in large part by the burger giant.

"McDonald's can no longer ignore the tremendous costs of its business practices on our children's health and on the healthcare system," said Dr. Andrew Bremer, a pediatric endocrinologist and associate professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Vanderbilt University. "This issue is not only critical to the health and well-being of generations to come, but also to shareholders who should be better informed about the liabilities associated with the businesses they're investing in."

Over the last year, Dr. Bremer and more than 3000 health professionals have expanded their commitment to end the burger giant's marketing to kids. Truman Medical Center in Kansas City became the fourth hospital in recent years to give McDonald's the boot, while dozens of other facilities are being urged to follow suit. What's more, a new book by Michael Moss details how the food industry purposefully engineers food high in salt, sugar and fat - ingredients with huge power to condition our eating habits - to keep people coming back for more.

Yet, McDonald's continues to argue that healthier offerings, like oatmeal with the nutritional value of a Snickers, are sufficient responses to the public's increasing intolerance of junk food and its marketing. When this line of reasoning doesn't work, executives herald "Get Moving with Ronald McDonald" school assemblies: as if promoting physical activity with the icon for a fast-food chain were the solution to staggering rates of diet-related disease.

Such arguments have done little to quell public and shareholder concerns, instead stirring a demographic the corporation calls "gatekeepers" (e.g. moms). Over the last few weeks prominent parenting and food blogs have pummeled the burger giant with criticism as part of the #MomsNotLovinIt initiative. Representatives of the growing network of engaged parents and their children attended the meeting to endorse the resolution and communicate their concerns, including blogger Kia Robertson and her daughter Hannah of

"From one parent to another, I appeal to you, CEO Thompson, to stop substituting PR for action," said Robertson. "McWorld, the adver-games, branded school curricula, celebrity endorsements, cross-promotions with kids' movies: it all needs to stop. Stop undermining the choices parents like me everywhere are making for our kids. Deep down you must understand how destructive the inundation of marketing is to our children's health."

Another member of the network, Tanya Fields, who has advocated for healthier food environments in the Bronx, added, "and perhaps nowhere is McDonald's predatory marketing more pervasive than in communities of color. Marketing is plentiful and food options are limited. It's a recipe, Mr. Thompson, for disproportionate disease rates my community can no longer stomach."

If Thompson was predictably unmoved, it's not for lack of evidence that McDonald's marketing has real-world consequences. The White House and four federal agencies (FTC, FDA, CDC, USDA) have recommended the end of junk food marketing to children. The Institute of Medicine has repeatedly affirmed the importance of addressing food marketing to children and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends banning junk food advertising during children's TV programs.

Figuring financial implications will speak louder than science, the resolution called on McDonald's to report on whether its efforts to address its public health impacts are enough to deal with increasing risk to both its bottom line and all-important brand value. Indicators like McDonald's failure to rank among the top 10 restaurant chains for millennials may be the answer: no.

And while the corporation has been compelled to take some initial steps since the introduction of the first health resolution in 2011, such as changing its Happy Meals, McDonald's has also lavished millions of dollars on PR aimed to nutri-wash away public health concerns.

"McDonald's new leadership can continue hedging its bets, allowing short-term profits to obscure the looming risks to the corporation's long-term profitability, like its predecessors," said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International. "Or CEO Thompson and his team can publicly take the sobering look at how inextricably linked McDonald's business practices are with today's health crisis. There is far too much at stake for this industry leader to balk at economic concerns and at the wisdom of the medical establishment, shareholders and parents everywhere."

Click below for statements from today's shareholders' meeting:
* Kia Robertson
* Hannah Robertson
* Tanya Fields
* Dr. Andrew Bremer
* Michelle Dyer
* Sriram Madhusoodanan, Corporate Accountability International
* Hannah Freedberg, Corporate Accountability International

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