The blog for editorial consideration of topics from "a" to "z" to stimulate your further investigation and to draw your comments.
Friday, October 15, 2010
The Days of Happy Meals
“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children.”
“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.” -- Center for Science in the Public Interest, nonprofit consumer advocacy group
These words are part of an ultimatum that has been sent to McDonald’s in a bid to stop the habit of pairing kiddie sized junk food meals with irresistible toys. And not just any toys, the most timely branded characters children love so much from recent movies. ("McDonald's Happy Meal -- Like Candy From a Dirty Old Man?" www.fooducate.com, June 23 2010)
If a Happy Meal were a child's nutritious food of choice, the argument would never be made; however, children seem to prefer this popular product that has been said to have too much fat, too much salt, and too much sugar. Are these children developing bad eating habits that last a lifetime?
It is impossible to avoid the facts. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled over the past 30 years. Stephen Gardner, the litigation director for CSPI, believes that McDonald's and other purveyors of cheap, calorie-rich contribute greatly to this problem. He says this of deceptive marketing: "Kids under the age of eight do not understand that they are being advertised to. It's without question that it's detrimental to kids." (Jonathan Berr, "Health Groups Says It Will Sue McDonald's Over Happy Meals," Daily Finance, October 6 2010)
Of the 24 possible Happy Meal combinations that McDonald’s describes on its web site, all exceed 430 calories (430 is one-third of the 1,300- calorie recommended daily intake for children 4 to 8 years old). A Happy Meal of a cheeseburger, French fries, and Sprite has half a day’s calories and saturated fat (640 and 7 grams, respectively), about 940 milligrams of sodium, and about two days’ worth of sugar (35 grams). -- CSPI
Dick Brams is known as the "father of the Happy Meal. In 1979, the McDonald's St. Louis regional advertising manager decided to create a meal "just for kids."It was circus-wagon-themed and came with the standard hamburger or cheeseburger option, as well as French fries, cookies, a soft drink and — of course — a toy. Upon opening their meal, kids got either a "McDoodler" stencil, a "McWrist" wallet, an ID bracelet, a puzzle lock, a spinning top or a McDonaldland-character eraser. (Kayla Webley, "A Brief History of the Happy Meal," Time, April 30 2010)
The Happy Meal options have remained basically the same although Chicken McNuggets were added in 1983). The toys have changed nearly every week. Here is a brief Happy Meal history:
* A big moment for the meal came in 1987 when the first Disney Happy Meal debuted. Since then, Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Aladdin, Simba, Nemo and all 101 dalmatians have made appearances.
* Transformers (which are now highly prized among collectors), Hello Kitty, Legos, Teletubbies and G.I. Joe also made appearancecs.
* But none have experienced the insane popularity of Ty's Teenie Beanie Babies. McDonald's introduced a miniature version of the wildly popular stuffed animals in 1997, selling more than 100 million that year and further propelling a nationwide Beanie Baby craze. The intense popularity resulted in McDonald's continuing to offer Teenie Beanies annually through the year 2000.
* In 2004 they featured Beanies for original McDonald's stars Ronald, Birdie, Hamburglar and Grimace in honor of the Happy Meal's 25th anniversary, and as recently as 2009
* McDonald's introduced jugs of 1% milk, apple slices with low-fat caramel dip and juice boxes in the early 2000s. A four-piece Chicken McNuggets meal with apple slices, caramel dip and a box of apple juice has 380 calories, 12 g of fat and 470 mg of sodium.
* Then there's the cheeseburger meal with a small bag of fries and 1% chocolate milk, which weighs in at 700 calories, 27 g of fat and 1,060 mg of sodium.
After legislation that banned all fast-food freebies in Santa Clara, San Francisco lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a law that would prohibit fast-food restaurants from putting toys in children's meals unless they include fruits and vegetables and don't have too many unhealthy calories. ("Happy Meal Ban," Associated Press article, October 4 2010)
McDonald's likely will put up a fierce fight against the CSPI, arguing that its rights to promote Happy Meals are protected under the First Amendment.