McDonald’s … Are You Lovin’ It?

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McDonald's I'm lovin' it logoNot everyone is lovin’ McDonald’s these days.  At a recent stockholders meeting, Dr. Donald Ziegler, director of Prevention and Health Lifestyles at the American Medical Association, challenged the world’s largest fast food chain to stop using Ronald McDonald in its marketing to kids.  Undeterred, McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner replied, “Ronald McDonald is an ambassador to McDonald’s and he is an ambassador for good.  Ronald McDonald is going nowhere.”  How does Skinner defend this stance?  He believes it’s all “about the personal and individual right to choose.”

If you’ve been listening to the food, beverage, and restaurant industry’s rhetoric the past five or so years, personal choice and responsibility have emerged as the recurring theme.  In fact, Rick Berman, a powerful Washington lobbyist (see the 60 Minutes story about him entitled “Meet Dr. Evil”), has been hired by the food industry to espouse freedom of choice and attack “the nanny state” of regulation.  Sarah Palin has even joined the fray recently by attacking Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity by declaring federal incentives to encourage breastfeeding as “the new definition of nanny.”  And while Rick Berman and other industry spokespeople state they are not opposed to educating consumers on healthier choices, the industry’s track record hardly supports that claim.  From dragging its feet on nutrition labeling to refusing to list calories on menus, the food industry has been anything but forthcoming with information.  And when challenged by so-called “food cops” to stop shrouding industrial farming practices in secrecy, the food industry has responded by lobbying for more anti-whistleblower bills that essentially muzzle undercover reporting efforts that threaten to expose the industry’s mistreatment of animals.  How can the same food industry that staunchly defends personal and individual rights also be so against freedom of speech?

Unfortunately, the industry’s track record on advertising appears just as insincere and self-serving, especially when it comes to marketing directed at kids.  For example, in a May 2011 news story by CNBC entitled Big Mac:  Inside the McDonald’s Empire, McDonald’s claims that it hasn’t marketed burgers and fries to children in over two years.  Most parents who watch TV with their kids would disagree.  Ads for Happy Meals bombard kids daily, and parents quickly tire of their kids constant nagging for the never-ending flood of toys and promotional tie-ins contained in the iconic red, smiling boxes.   So how can the seemingly conflicting points-of-view of parents and McDonald’s coexist?  The answer:  the art of misleading statements, and the food industry has become a master of them.  In the case of Happy Meals, McDonald’s relies on a technicality.  Happy Meal advertising doesn’t picture the standard burger and fries option.  Rather, it subtly features options like chicken nuggets and apple slices.  Seems like a slight of hand to me, especially since the vast majority of Happy Meals sold contain a burger and fries.

The food industry, especially fast food purveyors like McDonald's, have a track record of making misleading statements in their marketing and advertising.

“Clownish” – by Toto Sugiarto at www.totosugiarto.com

Although most people may not be impressed by McDonald’s integrity, many still defend their right to market their products to kids.  New research, however, may make more people reconsider.  First, clinical trials have discovered that tastes for food become imprinted at a very young age proving early exposure to unhealthy diets can result in preferences for unhealthy foods and increased long-term risks for obesity and diabetes.  Furthermore, in CNBC’s story about McDonald’s, Carl Quintanilla reveals recent studies find “children under the age of 8 can’t yet dicern the manipulative intent of commercials.”  With information like this, it’s no wonder  that Marion Nestle, Ph.D. and professor in the Department of Nutrition at New York University, concludes Happy Meals are “manipulative”,“insidious”, and “extremely subversive of parental authority.”

So what’s the answer?  Although historically I haven’t favored regulation as a solution, I’m increasingly concerned.  Rather than embrace their entrusted role of nourishing lives, the food industry seems more and more willing to abandon the high road.  While I believe there is a huge opportunity for food companies and restaurants to step up, most seem content defending the status quo.  Lies and half-truths are becoming more prevalent, and pro-food industry lobbyists like Rick Berman consistently prevail in the regulatory debate.

How do you feel about the food your eating?  Are you concerned?  And if so, what do you think we should do?

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15 comments… add one

  • Patrick June 27, 2011, 10:42 am

    What is the big fuss about??!! Where are 8 year old going to get the money and transportation to buy a happy meal??
    Its retard parents!! If you are a fat slob then it is your fault. If you want to be a piggy all your life and then cry about it then go ahead as long as you dont blame others.
    Let pigs be pigs and let McDonlads and others do their business in peace!

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley June 27, 2011, 12:39 pm

      Well, that is one approach. Help me better understand your point of view. Do you believe there are long-term, negative health consequences from eating Happy Meals on a regular basis? Do you think if eaten regularly they increase a child’s predisposition to obesity or craving fatty foods? It sounds like from your comment that you believe McDonald’s is unhealthy. Why not try to educate people better and stop government subsidies of cheap, unhealthy food? Why not change government incentives to encourage healthier eating? Pro-business advocates have long known that government incentives are effective in changing behavior of corporations and individuals.

      Reply
      • Kati June 30, 2011, 7:22 am

        Studies show kids who start smoking prior to puberty have a harder time quitting because their bodies went through such a dramatic change with the chemicals in their system. I can only imagine the same would be true for unhealthy food choices!! IT SHOULD NOT BE SO HARD TO EAT HEALTHY!

        Reply
        • Bruce Bradley June 30, 2011, 8:55 am

          I do believe our bodies have a chemical reaction to junk foods and beverages. Much like some people get addicted to the high of their drug of choice, it’s easy to fall prey to the rush of a sugar high or the satisfying and comforting feeling from the salt and fat in fast food meal. Personally, the addiction I continue to fight is diet drinks. I KNOW they aren’t good for me, but there is something deliciously intense about the taste of a Cherry Coke Zero that makes it hard for me to quit. Any other food and beverage addictions other would like to share?

          Reply
          • Jacqueline October 17, 2011, 1:08 pm

            I have the same diet soda addiction. I try to eat so well otherwise, but can’t seem to kick the Coke Zero or Diet Dew habit. Makes one wonder why. Have you found anything that helps? I’ve tried organic coffee instead (for the caffeine) , sparkling water for the bubbles, but nothing quite replaces those diet drinks!

          • Bruce Bradley October 17, 2011, 1:18 pm

            I drink organic iced tea with a little sugar or honey added. It has helped me cut back a lot. Personally, I’ve found it especially hard to “give up” soda when you’re stressed. For example. the past six months I’ve been working incredibly hard getting this blog up and running and working on final edits for my book, all while trying to earn a living. So I’m hoping I’m going to refocus my efforts to quit during a less stressful time—perhaps over vacation or the holidays.

            I recently read an article about “how to break a soda addiction” off of one of my new favorite blogs called Summer Tomato. Here is the link to the article. Hopefully it can help you out.

          • Wendy November 14, 2011, 10:29 am

            I also had a diet soda addiction, to Diet Coke. I successfully gave it up a few years ago. I will have a soda every now and then, but what I have noticed is that it is really unsatisfying! It tastes ok, but leaves me wanting something else when I am done.

            I also used to have bladder issues, enough so that I was ready to see a doc about it. But when I gave up soda, the issues went away.

            For those two reasons, it is really easy to stay away from soda of all kinds. Now I just drink tons of coffee!

  • Kati June 30, 2011, 7:16 am

    I understand your point of view, but the truth of the matter is, parents aren’t EDUCATED. Should children have to suffer for that their entire lives??? We keep cigarettes and alcohol out of their hands, and in my opinion, this type of food is right up there in the same category. However, more attention should be focused on education- on fixing the problem. When people are educated, they’re more likely to make the right decisions and McDonald’s will be forced to do the right thing by their own customers.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley June 30, 2011, 8:46 am

      I agree with you Kati. Education is a HUGE part of the problem, but so is MISINFORMATION. The fast food and processed food industries are masters of the propaganda machine. With the incredible sums of money they spend to advertise their products and buy health claims and recommendations from seemingly credible authorities, I’m not sure education alone will solve the problem. Regardless, it is an essential ingredient to the solution!

      Reply
      • Kati June 30, 2011, 12:28 pm

        Yes, I completely agree it’s not enough. Parents struggling to make ends meet and have 2-3 jobs or more just to put food on their plates trust what people tell them- that McDonald’s food is okay for children.

        Other food addictions? MOUNTAIN DEW! It’s like crack! No other soda suffices, but i can get by with their throw-back. It tastes better to me and is at least slightly better for you.

        Reply
        • Bruce Bradley June 30, 2011, 12:59 pm

          It’s good to know I’m not the only person that tries to eat well, but can still fall victim to a soda addiction!

          Reply
  • Windy Daley October 22, 2011, 4:15 pm

    Your articles are fantastic, and just what the public needs. As a teacher, I can say that children are also addicted to fast foods through school foods. High fructose corn syrup and other sugars, transfat, artificial ingredients, colors, and flavors–and so many other unhealthy choices are rampant in the school foods of this country. Nothing is cooked; it is unwrapped. The processed foods industry is becoming rich by addicting the children of this country.

    For example, having a Kellogg’s pop tart for breakfast–and a corn dog for lunch are poplular choices. Parents need to get involved over what is happening in the schools of this nation.

    Bruce, the health of American children may very well rest in the efforts of writers like you who keep this problem in the forefront. The Internet serves as a way to liberate the American public from the slavery of fast foods.

    We need to love our children enough to feed them real foods. We need to investigate the foods that are being given to the school children of this country.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 22, 2011, 4:42 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I agree, parents must be very involved in helping guide their children to make wise food choices. While the occasional indulgence is fine, diets of corn dogs and pop tarts are far too common for children these days.

      Reply
  • Raul Guadarrama November 15, 2011, 1:45 am

    Bruce I’m so glad I found your website! You are helping me and my family stay healthy and safe. I totally agree with your blog. I also believe food companies have the right to advertise their products. But its different now. They are not honest. Like you said education isn’t enough now. I’m Just a little surprised that you didn’t mention some of the ingredients on the McDonald’s menu. Foodmatters.com explains it well. I showed this to my family but some of them still decide to go and eat there. Its like they are brainwashed. Because they clearly know that They are eating poison! Thanks again Bruce keep up the good work man!

    Reply
  • Jeff November 16, 2011, 9:41 am

    I think this is a very loaded area. First you have to define what “healthy” eating is. I think the easiest definition of that is real food, but then what is that? There is a huge difference between eating a wild blackberry, and “fruit” that has been selected and altered by humans for years. I think there is a huge difference between eating CAFO meat, and animals that were raised (at least a little closer to) on their natural diet in a humane environment. My first question would be, why are we feeding our kids grains for breakfast anyways? Be it the flour in the ice cream sandwich, or the grain in the cereal. We make sure we eat vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and now we also eat essential sugar? AA’s we use as the building blocks of protein, and Fat can be broken down efficiently into glucose to feed the brain and muscle tissue.

    Modern farmers use grains (and yep…they use the WHOLE GRAIN) to fatten up their animals faster. Amazingly, they also depend on antibiotics, and deal constantly with disease (great for big Pharma too!) Of course not every cow on a CAFO is taken to slaughter with a forklift, just like every human eating crap is not morbidly obese.

    Sugar is a whole other story. I forget the recent study (although there are many) that showed that crack addicted mice preferred sugar to the drug, and also showed that sugar stimulates the same area that addictive drugs stimulates. As per the soda, and the like…it is a lot like cigarettes… just because your tobacco is not called a cigarette, does not make the tobacco any worse. Just like with sugar in beverages..weather you are getting it from honey in tea (more fructose than HFCS by the way), in a soda, or in a frappacino or homemade smoothie… it makes no difference, you are still stimulating those neurological pathways. Don’t like soda’s nasty affects? Stop drinking it! Artificial sweeteners are also a horrible substitute— most have been shown to cross the blood/brain barrier, and even stevia stimulates an insulin response (decreasing insulin sensitivity)

    Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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Bruce Bradley

Bruce Bradley

I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

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