Fast Food Ethics - Sad News for the Happy Meal
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (“CSPI”) recently served notice on McDonald’s to cease using toys to market its Happy Meals to children or face litigation. CSPI claims that this practice promotes poor eating habits and leads to obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases. This announcement follows the recent enactment of a law in Santa Clara County, California that banned kid’s meals in restaurants that include a toy and exceed certain thresholds for calories, salt, fat, or added sugar. The law impacts very few restaurants in the county and seems squarely aimed at McDonald’s and its Happy Meal.
Why does McDonald’s seem to be the focus of this negative attention? Certainly the Happy Meal is not the only food product marketed to children that includes a toy and has questionable nutritional value. Perhaps CSPI should consider adding Tony the Tiger, Sugar Bear, Cap’N Crunch, Count Chocula, and Toucan Sam as defendants in its proposed lawsuit. Aren’t breakfast cereals, Cracker Jacks, and a host of other foods that are filled with sugar and fat and contain toys just as bad as a Happy Meal? Is McDonald’s being unfairly singled out?
Comparing the nutritional facts of the Happy Meal to these other products that are marketed primarily to children is a bit eye-opening. As a typical representative of a sugar laden breakfast cereal, Fruit Loops has 118 calories per one cup serving and has high levels of iron, certain B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc due to fortification. It is also very high in sugar content with 12.5 grams in a serving. A box of Cracker Jacks contains a similar amount of calories without the vitamins and minerals and almost 20% more sugar.
In comparison, the McDonald’s Cheeseburger Happy Meal with french fries and apple juice is a fat and sugar bomb. It contains 630 calories, 24 grams of fat, 28 grams of sugar, and 930 milligrams of salt. McDonald’s does offer slightly healthier alternatives, such as apples and caramel sauce instead of fries, but these only improve the nutritional data slightly. The bottom line is that hamburgers are not diet food. The typical fast food meal is not nutritional and as the company at the top of the fast food pyramid, McDonald’s is likely to suffer the brunt of watchdog groups’ ire.
Yet, should a county be able to prevent parents from allowing their children to consume Happy Meals or an organization such as CSPI be able to bring a legal action against fast food companies on behalf of consumers? These are more controversial issues. Certainly, we have allowed paternalistic government regulation to infiltrate other aspects of our lives as evidenced by seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws. Most people accept these restrictions on our freedom of choice. Yet, telling parents what they cannot feed their kids meets more resistance. This is especially true when most of these parents ate similar fast food on occasion as children and have not suffered irreparable harm.
The ability of CSPI to sue McDonald’s for unfair marketing practices raises the issue of legal standing. Standing refers to a legal doctrine that requires a plaintiff, among other things, to have suffered injury or damages in order to proceed with a lawsuit against a defendant. In many jurisdictions, organizations such as CSPI are granted standing under consumer protection legislation since it would be unlikely that individual consumers could prove sufficient damages to justify the expense of a lawsuit. While this sounds reasonable, class action suits seem to alleviate this concern. Allowing CSPI, which has not suffered any damages, to initiate legal actions clogs an already backlogged court system. While CSPI has some admirable aims, using the threat of lawsuits as a public relations tool is not appropriate.
In the end, parents must bear primary responsibility for the eating habits of children. To CSPI’s credit, it has allocated a significant amount of its resources to giving advice to parents regarding the way food is marketed to kids. Educating parents, and children as well, is the best method for ensuring that children consume a balance diet, which can include the occasional fast food or breakfast cereal indulgence. After all, going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs is part of being a kid!
Source by Greg Yanke