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June 22, 2010

A U.S. consumer watchdog group has sent a letter to fast food giant McDonald’s demanding the company cease using children’s toys in the marketing of Happy Meals or the organization will file a lawsuit.

The Happy Meal has been a kids’ favorite since 1979.

The non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) letter sent today to Jan Fields, President of McDonald’s USA, LLC, accused the company’s marketing practices or being predatory and wrong. The letter went on to call the practices illegal, because marketing to kids under eight is inherently deceptive and because young kids are not developmentally advanced enough to understand the persuasive intent of marketing. They claim it is also unfair to parents, because marketing to children undermines parental authority and interferes with their ability to raise healthy children

“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity—all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”

In a press release, CSPI detailed how of the 24 Happy Meal combinations available, all contain more than 1/3 of a child’s recommended daily allowance of calories, salt, fat and sugar. According to the CSPI, getting children accustomed to eating burgers, fries and soda puts them at greater risk of developing obesity, diabetes or other diet-related diseases over the course of their lifetimes.

“But regardless of the nutritional quality of what’s being sold, the practice of tempting kids with toys is inherently deceptive,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “I’m sure that industry’s defenders will blame parents for not saying ‘no’ to their children. Parents do bear much of the responsibility, but multi-billion-dollar corporations make parents’ job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising.”

“McDonald’s makes my job as a parent more difficult,” Sheila Nesbitt, 36, a project manager from Champlin, MN, and a parent of a six-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl, told CSPI. “They market cheap toys that appeal to kids and it works. My kids always want to go to McDonald’s because of the toys. I try my best to educate my kids about healthy eating but it’s hard when I am competing against the allure of a new Shrek toy.”

CSPI alleges that McDonald’s practices violate state consumer protection laws, such as Massachusetts G.L. c. 93A, Texas Business & Professions Code § 17.41 et seq., District of Columbia Code § 28-3905 et seq., New Jersey Statutes Ann. 56:8-1 et seq., and California Business & Professions Code Section 17200.

This will not be the first time CSPI takes on a fast-food chain, the organization sued KFC for using partially hydrogenated oil, which made KFC’s chicken very high in Trans fat. CSPI dropped the lawsuit after KFC agreed to phase out the oil and is now trans-fat-free.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Roger Greenlaw

    What kind of idiot believes that parents will buy happy meals because the child(ren) want the toys? My wife and I sometimes buy happy meals for our children, but more often say NO. Our children have learned that NO means NO and don't fight when we say they can't have a happy meal. When will parents again be allowed to be parents? There are so many regulations that prevent parents from parenting which make it very much more difficult to raise children today than in years past. You really can't teach valuable life lessons if regulations prevent teachable moments from ever occurring.

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