Yesterday, I read a statement at the McDonald’s Shareholder Meeting and spoke personally with Don Thompson, CEO of McDonald’s. When I personally told Mr. Thompson about my childhood eating disorder and how as a child I associated Happy Meals with happiness, he laughed at me. He said, “Happy Meals can’t give you an eating disorder, my dear.”
But the research on fast food marketing to children suggests otherwise.
When I think about my childhood, I remember being obsessed with Cheeseburger Happy Meals and having a very strong connection with McDonald’s. I can’t explain why, but I do remember associating Happy Meals with happiness. And I wanted to be happy. Then around 2nd grade when the children started teasing me about how fat I was, I felt sad and wanted to be happy again…so I ate more. By that time, food was happiness to me and I had a full blown childhood eating disorder. I remember sneaking food in my room and overeating at meals until my stomach hurt. I couldn’t stop and I was only a child. And I remember the highlight of my week was a Happy Meal from McDonald’s.
Junk food marketing to children is a leading cause of childhood obesity
Research on fast food marketing to children has demonstrated it to be a leading cause of childhood obesity. In fact, It’s so incredibly detrimental to young minds that “The American Academy of Pediatrics considers advertising directly to young children to be inherently deceptive, and exploits children under the age of 8 years.” Numerous medical professionals and organizations such as Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity have called for an end of marketing fast food to children. And that’s because children are NOT equipped to handle the complexities of marketing. They simply don’t understand it and what it’s intended to do, leaving them helpless to the predatory advances of marketing messages, even those that are detrimental to their health. In fact, it’s not even technically legal because it’s considered by experts deceptive. So when McDonald’s advertises to children directly, their strategy is to create brand loyalists who incessantly “nag” their mothers for a Happy Meal, because they have discovered it only takes nine “nags” from a child for the average mom to purchase said Happy Meal. McDonald’s knows this so they spend BILLIONS of dollars marketing directly to children to circumvent parental authority. And in places like Quebec where they have banned fast food marketing to children, they have the lowest rates of childhood obesity in the entire country of Canada. You’ll also see similar lower rates of obesity in other countries that have done the same overseas.
And just as fast food marketing to children has been called a leading cause of childhood obesity, it can also trigger and cultivate a childhood eating disorder. One of the leading Pediatricians in the United States, Dr. Greene, who also works for the Dr. Oz Show says “I believe advertising to children can have a profound impact on them and their food choices, even triggering and cultivating eating disorders.” And Dr. Tanya Altman, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics says, ” Unhealthy food and fast food advertisements directly impact young children influencing them to want and crave such unhealthy food items. This directly leads to unhealthy eating patterns in children.” And finally, research has already demonstrated a link between advertising to children and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, cigarette & alcohol use. Thankfully, we’ve already banned cigarette and alcohol companies from marketing to children.
Predatory Marketing: When Parental Choice is an Illusion
When it comes to fast food marketing to children, mothers are put in a very tough spot. On the one hand, you want to avoid foods that cause diet related disease, such as McDonalds Happy Meals, and then, on the other hand, you don’t want to create a situation where your child feels deprived of food, which can lead to disordered eating and a childhood eating disorder. So in the instance of fast food marketing, McDonald’s has created an environment where the deck is stacked against parents. Parents are actually at a disadvantage, being forced to choose between two potentially equally disastrous outcomes. This is an example of when parental choice is actually an illusion.
And unless you live in a cave, escaping fast food marketing to your child is almost possible. Simply turning off the television, radio OR monitoring their online usage is not enough. McDonald’s has ensured that even when parents choose to avoid fast food marketing, their children are still impacted when they aren’t around. For instance, if you look below at the image, you’ll see a coupon my son received in first grade after improving his test scores.
McDonalds Happy Meals Have Been Engineered to Be Addictive
Just as cigarettes have been synthetically altered with chemicals to be highly addictive, so has the McDonalds Happy Meal. In fact, a child’s brain is hardwired to crave as much fat, sodium & sugar as they can possibly get. And McDonald’s has synthetically altered their food to not only contain synthetic chemicals, but also maximize fat, sugar & sodium. So when a child is given a McDonalds Happy Meal, happy sensors in their brain are going off in their heads telling them that Happy Meals are AWESOME. They become automatically addicted, and this addictive behavior can lead to childhood eating disorders.
We don’t treat addicts the same as other people because we recognize that there is a lack of control in the situation. Yes, it’s possible to overcome addiction, but just ask someone who smokes how many times they have tried to quit and you get a better understanding of how powerful addiction can become. We simply cannot treat people who are addicted to a substance the same as others. Addiction is a medical condition and when created in childhood, can have disastrous effects. And just as alcoholics don’t have meetings inside bars where they serve alcohol, we can’t expect children who are addicted to fast food to avoid it when it’s presented to them. McDonald’s knows this and that is why they have gotten into schools, athletic events, hospitals, and academic fundraisers to serve their addictive food.
Moms Are Demanding McDonalds Stops Predatory Marketing Practices to Their Children
Yesterday, I was with a group of moms who demanded McDonald’s stop predatory marketing to children. We made it clear we were not giving them our consent to market to our kids and their predatory marketing practices are circumventing our parental authority. This was the statement I read:
I’m Leah Segedie, a mother of 3 small children, a 100 lb Loser and professional blogger.
I’ve had a love affair with McDonald’s since I was a young girl. My meal of choice was a cheeseburger Happy Meal. But I associated Happy Meals with happiness as a child, and that led me to become a size 22 in adulthood.
The day I swore off McDonald’s and soda was my first step to regaining my health. I did so because I wanted my children to have a better, healthier future.
But my battle with McDonald’s didn’t stop with my refusal to eat it or feed it to my family. Don Thompson, you are marketing to my children without my consent on websites, with Lego characters, and even in their school report cards.
My children are too young to understand what marketing is. So as you continue to bombard them through their peers, television, the Internet, schools & public spaces, I fear eventually my voice will get drowned out. And the research on fast food marketing to kids backs up my fears. McDonalds has the upper hand. I do not.
Mr. Thompson, when are you going to shut down HappyMeal.com?
I didn’t get a response directly from McDonald’s, but we did get plenty of media attention with our demands. As moms, we felt so strongly about this issue that we were willing to fly across the country to tell them. And we did not realize we would get the amount of support from the digital mom community and the press as we did.
- Chicago Tribune
- NBC News
- CBS News
- Wall Street Journal
- Associated Press (widely reprinted in numerous outlets)
- USA Today
- Chicago Daily Herald
- International Business Times
- Financial Times
Mr. Thompson, I’m demanding you stop circumventing my parental authority and end your predatory marketing practices to children. And just as Joe Camel was retired because he was targeting children with a lifetime of disease, Ronald McDonald and your new McScary Happy Meal guy need to be retired as well. A childhood eating disorder and childhood obesity is no joke.