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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Don't Like Clowns, But Killing Ronald McDonald?

I read an interesting article on Advertising Age today about how an organization called Corporate Accountability International wants McDonald's to retire their iconic brand mascot Ronald McDonald. According to CAI's website:

"But [McDonald's] success has come at the expense of our children’s health. Since the inception of Ronald McDonald, obesity rates have more than tripled among American children and the prevalence of diet-related conditions like type 2 diabetes has skyrocketed."

It also suggests to readers of their site that they:

"Click on the links to the right to learn how Ronald has become not only the face of, but the engine behind the health epidemic. Find out about the clown’s pioneering efforts to market unhealthy food to kids, disguise marketing as charity, and outflank the most well-intentioned parents."

The 32-page booklet is an interesting read (famous weatherman/media personality Willard Scott invented and played the first Ronald McDonald?!?!?), but mainly because their argument is totally absurd. Essentially, it goes through all of McDonald's marketing practices and paints them as demonic since they try to market to kids through Ronald McDonald and have a large amount of stores located near high schools. Well, duh! They have a business to run and that's where the money gets made!

We all have free will and the ability to make a decision about what we eat. I'm on the receiving end of McDonald's advertising just as much as anyone else who watches television, goes to sporting events, spends time in an airport or takes a long drive down an interstate. I choose to eat McDonald's once or twice a year and some other people choose to eat it once or twice a week if not more. That isn't McDonald's fault. They have a product, they advertise it, market it and hope that people buy it. To blame McDonald's for childhood obesity is ridiculous. Kids would be eating fruits and vegetables all the time if McDonald's had an "adults only" marketing policy? The existence of Ronald McDonald does not prevent a parent from telling their child "NO" when they are throwing a tantrum about going to McDonald's [to be fair, I am not a parent, so maybe it is easier to throw in the towel and get the kid a Happy Meal]. If McDonald's didn't exist, then kids would still want burgers and fries and they'd still want soda, ice cream, candy bars and a bazillion other things that will expand their waistline.

Parents are accountable for their children being overweight. Eating habits are learned at home and if parents don't teach their children the value of eating healthy, then of course kids are going to wind up being overweight. Sure the argument can be made that teenagers aren't always with their parents and can purchase fast food on their own, but I seem to remember that being something all teenagers do and as far as I know, not all teenagers are fat. I would eat McDonald's after school all the time when I was in high school and I was thin as a rail. Good metabolism? Maybe. But probably mostly because my mother prepared healthy dinners for us and didn't have a ton of processed food lying around the house. I'm not saying we were eating carrot sticks for snacks because there was a lot of chocolate around the house and we were allowed to indulge our sweet tooths, but sugar cereals were banned and soda was a rare treat.

And let's not forget other factors that contribute to childhood obesity like how the manner in which so many of our foods are manufactured these days takes essential nutrients and vitamins out of the ingredients and how often times obesity is found largely in economically depressed areas where unhealthier foods are simply the only viable option for families strapped for cash.

If CAI wants to get behind a cause that is useful, then work on getting vending machines out of schools. If I wanted M&M's in the 6th Grade, then I've have to give money to this girl Ginny for her weekly 7-Eleven run (I swear that Ginny probably wound up slinging wacky tobacky or scalping concert tickets in high school or college...she just had that kind of entrepreneurial spirit). These days kids can get a King Size bag (cleverly retitled "Tear 'N Share" recently by those evil bastards at M&M/Mars) of M&M's any day at any time. Now that is definitely contributing to childhood obesity.

Leave the clown alone and focus your tremendous amount of resources, time and energy on more useful causes won't you CAI?

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