Interesting news story today about the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, threatening to file a lawsuit against McDonald’s, saying that the fast food chain’s marketing of its Happy Meal toys “has the effect of conscripting America’s children into an unpaid drone army of word-of-mouth marketers, causing them to nag their parents to bring them to McDonald’s.”
Blaming McDonald’s for obese kids is akin to blaming schools. I have disagreed on this issue with some of my food writer friends who believe that schools ought to be teaching nutrition through what they serve in the lunchrooms and that schools play a key role in childhood obesity.
I don’t think McDonald’s is the parent here. Nor are the schools. If parents don’t want their kids to eat french fries, say “no” when the kids ask to go to McDonald’s. If parents don’t like the calorie counts of school lunch options, pack a lunch for the child.
I remain leery of expanding the list of things that schools ought to take responsibility for, such as teaching kids to be civil, to perform CPR and to count calories. My wariness is a result of meeting with too many well-meaning organizations who believe that their agenda – whether financial literacy or organic produce — ought to be adopted by schools.
I see no problem with a toy in the Happy Meal. Is it a lure? Sure, but life is full of lures. Parents have to teach their kids to resist the negative ones.
I have friends who hate that some teachers offer candy to students as a prize or treat. I don’t. I just don’t think the problem is a peppermint or candy Kiss now and then.
According to the story:
McDonald’s has fought such criticism for years, and the company made a pledge in 2007 to advertise only two types of Happy Meals to children younger than 12: one with four Chicken McNuggets, apple dippers with caramel dip and low-fat white milk, or one with a hamburger, apple dippers and milk. They both meet the company-set requirement of less than 600 calories, and no more than 35 percent of calories from fat, 10 percent of calories from saturated fat or 35 percent total sugar by weight.
CSPI argues that even if those Happy Meals appear in advertisements, kids order the unhealthier meals most of the time.
Again, there’s parent in this scenario. I am not sure why the parent can’t say “no” to the less healthy version.
I know many of you will disagree with me, but I think parents have a lot to do with food choices. When I was a kid, I pleaded with my mother to buy soda (soft drinks to those not from the Northeast). Never got any. And I don’t buy them much now, regarding a six-pack of Coke as a treat for my teenage son and his pals. I don’t let my 11-year-olds drink them. (I do let them order sodas in restaurants as a treat.)
I agree with keeping vending machines out of schools. I don’t think we should make it easy for children to buy junk. Nor do I think schools ought to make money from kids’ poor choices.
But we can’t shift the burden of children’s eating habits onto schools or restaurants. Because last time I looked, there were no 7-year-olds behind the wheel in the drive-thru.