McDonald's v.s. the Obesity Police

In a letter sent to Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonald’s, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), claims that when McDonalds advertises the toys included in their Happy Meals, they are unfairly and deceptively marketing their products directly to children.

The CSPI argues that these practices are predatory and wrong.

They go onto to claim that not only are they morally wrong, they are in fact illegal, because “marketing to kids under eight is (1) inherently deceptive, because young kids are not developmentally advanced enough to understand the persuasive intent of marketing; and (2) unfair to parents, because marketing to children undermines parental authority and interferes with their ability to raise healthy children”.

The CSPI “demands that McDonald’s immediately stop using toys to market Happy Meals to young children.

And, if they can’t resolve this matter in the near term (30 days), CSPI will bring a lawsuit that seeks an injunction preventing McDonald’s from providing toys with purchases of any or all Happy Meals.
In specific, CSPI claims that McDonald’s practices violate state consumer protection laws, such as Massachusetts G.L. c. 93A, Texas Business & Professions Code § 17.41 et seq., District of Columbia Code § 28-3905 et seq., New Jersey Statutes Ann. 56:8-1 et seq., and California Business & Professions Code Section 17200.
And because they detest government encroachment into our lives (sarcasm) and believe in a free market, CSPI will postpone filing suit if it can obtain McDonald’s agreement to stop its use of toys to market Happy Meals. This offer of settlement will remain open for 30 days from the date of this letter, after which yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah.

So, here are my questions for you:

  1. Is McDonald’s practice of advertising Happy Meal toys morally acceptable?
  2. Is that practice legally acceptable?
  3. If you agree with the CSPI that McDonald’s marketing practices are unacceptable, do you also agree with their lawsuit?
  4. Or, would you rather see concerned parents express their displeasure via complaints and/or choosing to eat at competing restaurants (without Happy Meal toys)


  1. Honestly, I believe that regardless of the advertising, parents are responsible for their children and that includes eating habits. These big companies are all about money, so regardless of morality/legality it is OUR responsibility as parents to ensure children are eating healthy and being active. This isn’t a new tactic, so it shouldn’t be shocking when corporations use children to sell products. We should know better and teach children better. So I’ll step off the soapbox now. 🙂 Thanks.

  2. I’d love to click “vote with our wallets”, but when has that ever worked? When McDonalds is cheap, built to be tasty and entertains the small things, the policy of voting with the wallet will only ever move the choir.

    Its nanny-ish, for sure, but how do we get to the 50%? We make it easy to go somewhere else, either by making McDonald’s less appealing or by coming up with something equally easy, cheap and fun but healthy. Fast-food paleo?

  3. I think people need to STOP coming up with crazy ways to blame others for their problems. As a parent of 3 healthy children who have survived eating a happy meal or two I must say that PARENTS need to take responsibility for their children and only eat there occasionally. YOU are the adults and YOU are the one with the means to provide this for them and if you can’t tell your children NO than you have bigger problems than a happy meal toy! As for advertising there are pleanty of commercials out their directed at small children. So in short if u don’t like it learn to say NO!

  4. I hope McDonald’s tells these health food nannies to go pound sand. Kids don’t buy food absent of their parents; thanks to the issue of most kids not having money unless it is supplied by their parents. What you have are a bunch of parents who don’t want the unpleasant experience of telling their child no. You also have the healthy food police buffoons who are no doubt as much, if not more so, inspired by the idea of dictating to others how they should behave. I’ve found that many folks in these kinds of movements have poor impulse control and want everyone else to take responsibility for their actions- since they won’t take responsibility for their own. It is like temperance all over again, a bunch of moralistic ninnies getting their panties in a bunch over hamburgers, fries, milkshakes, and cheap Chinese toys.

  5. I guess my question is if Mcdonalds is getting sued why aren’t burger king and wendy’s etc..? They advertise happy meal toys as well. Yes I know Burger King also has alternatives to fries and pop but ultimately are doing the same. I believe that the only reason they are attacking McDonalds is because it is a very successful and lucrative company comparatively speaking (BK and Wendy’s). Ultimately the parents are in charge of their children and if a silly commercial “undermines” their authority then the parents didn’t have much authority to begin with. On top of this, they don’t like heavy government involvement yet they are trying to dictate what people eat and how these companies advertise… seems a little hypocritical to me.

  6. The skeptic in me wonders if the CSPI creates these media storms in order to justify their existence and increase revenue.

    Just sayin’

  7. Love the argument. Yes, the advertising is quite influential, but in the end it’s a conscious choice isn’t it? No one is making the parents (or the children) purchase these products.
    In the end the consumer chooses to imbibe the oh-so obvious unhealthy morsels.
    Arguing that you buy the food for the toy still doesn’t explain how/why they eat the food.

  8. I don’t think this lawsuit makes any sense at all for all the reasons you all have stated, and also because it will not ultimately make the slightest dent in the health of children. EVERY kids snack in the supermarket has a cartoon character on it and every kid at the grocery store wants it (I learned the phrase “I want this one” in Spanish from hearing so many kids yelling in the snack aisle). Parents deal constantly with kids who want stuff, not just food. They frequently want to drive the car, play naked in snow, and lick the dog. You don’t ban the car, you explain why kids don’t drive. It’s not just about parents making food choices, it’s about them parenting responsibly. We cannot expect children to grow into adults who can make responsible choices if we completely sterilize and sanitize their lives.

    You’re right, you don’t see a toddler buy a happy meal, but I do know that as a 11 year old, when I went to the movies without my parents, I made it a point to eat what was banned from my home. The same went for mr when I moved away to college. My food choices had been so overly restricted growing up that I went crazy when I got my hands on soda and frosting and cookies. A happy meal or two, with reminders that they were meant for limited consumption, might have done me good.

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