The Center for Science in the Public Interest has sent McDonald’s a letter stating their intent to sue if McDonald’s continues packaging their food products with toys in order to sell them to children. They say promoting their foods to children with toys violates consumer protection laws in Massachusetts, Texas, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and California.
CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said “But regardless of the nutritional quality of what’s being sold, the practice of tempting kids with toys is inherently deceptive.”
Playing with toys is both a healthy and normal childhood activity. However, eating foods containing significant amounts of salt, sugar and fat on a regular basis is not healthy. Most children like and want toys, so it clearly is a manipulative practice to give away free toys with food. Children don’t understand what that kind of manipulation is, and also don’t know about healthy nutrition.
Reportedly, food companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on toy giveaways for children. Childhood obesity is enough of a problem that some say it is an epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control has reported children and adolescents who are obese are more likely to become obese adults. Obese children are more at risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Where are those food companies when a child is diagnosed with diabetes? The strategic manipulation of children includes the media. When a big animated movie is launched, toys based on the characters are sometimes available at fast food restaurants, with “special” deals, like buying a hamburger and fries coming with free toys from the movie. It makes parenting more challenging when the emotions of children have been manipulated, but the children only know they want the burger, the fries, the soda and the toys.
My friend used to say his young children would scream like crazy every time he drove somewhere and passed a McDonald’s. Of course that is the response some companies want, because captive audiences spend large amounts of money. Another aspect of the situation is that children have positive emotions associated with toys often, because they get them on their birthdays and at Christmas. In other words, they already feel good about toys, and are likely to want more, so it only seems natural for them to want the fast food they come with.
While the CSPI position might seem extreme to some, it should be pointed out that Reynolds tobacco company used their Joe Camel campaign for years to make smoking seem more favorable to youth. Getting children to form a habit early on, can mean large revenues, “As Reynolds has known for decades, 90 percent of adult smokers become addicted as kids, and the younger a child begins to smoke, the likelier the child is to become a regular smoker.” It appears a similar strategy might be at work with junk food. One question is simply: can food be addictive?
CSPI says Happy Meals now come in 24 different combinations. They also say a basic Happy Meal has two days of sugar for a child, if you use the RDA for children 4-8 years old. What child can resist a lot of sugar and free toys at the same time?
Image Credit: Maurice Svay
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