The watchdog group Corporate Accountability International (CAI) recently placed ads in U.S. newspapers asking Ronald McDonald to retire as McDonald’s mascot.
CAI wants Ronald McDonald to stop marketing junk food to children, and blamed the clown for contributing to the health epidemic of obesity and diet-related disease plaguing America’s children.
McDonald’s CEO, Jim Skinner, essentially told the activists to stuff it where the sun don’t shine. “Ronald McDonald isn’t going anywhere,” said Skinner, who defended the company’s right to advertise to children. “This is about choice and parents are responsible for deciding what to feed their kids.”
Skinner said he’s received support from customers and even non-customers who believe true liberty is having the right to choose. “Ronald McDonald is an ambassador to McDonald’s, and he is an ambassador for good,” Skinner said.
Apparently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wasn’t moved by Skinner’s libertarian speech and free market capitalist ideology, because AAP has now chimed in and spoken out in favor of a ban on advertising junk food to children.
According to a statement that will appear in the July 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online June 27), AAP says ads for junk food and fast food increase kids’ desire for these foods, claiming studies have shown that snacking increases while watching TV or movies. And late-night screen time can interfere with sleep, which puts kids at higher risk for obesity.
“We’ve created a perfect storm for childhood obesity — media, advertising, and inactivity,” said the statement’s lead author, Dr. Victor Strasburger, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media. “American society couldn’t do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy — too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise and not enough sleep.”
The July issue of Pediatrics also included a study on the effect of food advertising on children.
The study concludes:
“Exposure to television food commercials enhanced high television viewers’ preferences for branded foods and increased reported preferences for all food items (branded and nonbranded) relative to the low television viewers. This is the first study to demonstrate that children with greater previous exposure to commercials (high television viewers) seemed to be more responsive to food promotion messages than children with lower previous advertising exposure”.
As the LATimes notes, restaurant industry lobbyists are already fighting on another front to prevent more communities from banning Happy Meals like they did in two California counties, where they enacted “Happy Meal bans”, barring restaurants from handing out toys with children’s meals that have high levels of calories, fat and sodium.
“Thirty years ago, the federal government ruled that young children are psychologically defenseless against advertising. Now, kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food,” said Dr. Strasburger.