McDonald’s to be sued for ‘enticing children with toys’

‘McDonald’s use of these techniques raises troubling questions, for health professionals, parents, and policy makers.’

Slammed: U.S. consumer group says using popular characters to promote unhealthy food is ‘creepy and predatory’

As far as many children are concerned, they are the most appealing things on the menu.

But not everyone is so keen on the merchandising toys used by McDonald’s to entice youngsters to buy its Happy Meals.

A powerful American consumer group is threatening a lawsuit and has given the chain 30 days to drop the ‘creepy and predatory’ ploy it says undermines the efforts of parents to encourage a healthy diet.

The merchandise, which is also given to customers in Britain, includes toys related to the latest Shrek movie. Earlier this year it also had tie-ups with Alvin and the Chipmunks and Scooby Doo.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest says using the items to promote its Happy Meals is ‘unfair, deceptive and illegal’ under American state laws.

McDonald’s insists it uses toys and popular characters to promote healthy options such as fruit, carrot sticks and organic milk.

However, the CSPI says the reality is 93 per cent of children who have a Happy Meal walk out with a portion of fries alongside products such as burgers and chicken nuggets.

‘McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,’ said the 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.’

Shrek appears on packaging for low-fat milk and Apple Dippers.

However, these healthy options represent only a tiny proportion of Happy Meal sales on both sides of the Atlantic.

The CSPI said that of the 24 possible Happy Meal combinations that McDonald’s describes on its U.S. website, all exceed 430 calories, which is one third of the 1,300 recommended daily intake for children aged four to eight.

The figures will be similar in the UK.

A Happy Meal of a cheeseburger, French fries and Sprite has half a day’s calories and saturated fat. It also has around two days of sugar at 35g.

McDonald’s in the UK accused the CSPI of misrepresenting its food. A spokesman said: ‘ McDonald’s is committed to a responsible approach to our menu, and our Happy Meal offerings.

‘We have added more choice and variety than ever before, a fact that has been widely reported and recognised. We couldn’t disagree more with the misrepresentation of our food and marketing practices made by the CSPI.’

Kathryn Montgomery, professor of communication at American University in Washington, said: ‘We know from scientific research that young children – and even older ones – do not have the ability to understand how marketing has been designed to influence them.

‘In the era of digital marketing, these vulnerabilities are magnified even further.

‘McDonald’s use of these techniques raises troubling questions, for health professionals, parents, and policy makers.’

By Sean Poulter, Consumer Affairs Editor
Last updated at 9:37 PM on 23rd June 2010

Source: Daily Mail

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