The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is planning to sue fast-food giant McDonald’s if the company does not comply with its demands to remove toys from “Happy Meals”. CSPI claims that marketing unhealthy food with toys is contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic and should be stopped immediately.
The announcement by CSPI comes just weeks after a California county banned not only toys but all other promotions aimed at children that involve McDonald’s Happy Meals. By doing this, the county believes that children will be less attracted to fatty foods that are high in salt and calories.
According to the same article, back in April, Santa Clara County, California, also banned toy promotions from fast food meals sold in unincorporated parts of the county.
Spokesmen from McDonald’s denied that Happy Meals are inherently unhealthy, citing the fact that the meals are of an appropriate size and that children have the option to swap out the fries and soda for apples and juice. They also explained that giving away toys with children’s meals is part of the fun of a family dining experience.
Since 2008 when apples were first introduced as an option in Happy Meals, customers have ordered them more than 100 million times, illustrating that when given healthier options, customers often choose them for their children instead.
But those opposed to the toys insist that including them in Happy Meals is contributing directly to the obesity epidemic because it makes the generally unhealthy meals highly attractive to children who do not know any better.
And while acknowledging that parents ultimately bear the responsibility of controlling their children’s food choices, CSPI believes that using toys to lure kids into McDonald’s is so powerful and “predatory” as a form of marketing that parents often have a difficult time resisting their children’s nagging
Still others say that placing heavy restrictions on what McDonald’s can include in Happy Meals may be a bit severe and overbearing, and that it will do little to effectively reverse the nation’s obesity epidemic.
Some are even suggesting a compromise in which McDonald’s limit its new toy offerings to once a month rather than once a week, in order to reduce the number of times children want to go to McDonald’s to get a new toy.