Overweight and obesity among children is a growing problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 17% of children and adolescents are obese, as measured by age-adjusted body-mass index (BMI). The rate of childhood obesity has nearly tripled since 1980, which the CDC blames on a number of factors — including greater availability of high-calorie foods and drinks, as well as more advertising of less healthy foods.
Against this backdrop, at their annual meeting last Thursday, McDonald’s Corp shareholders rejected a proposal that would have required the company to issue a report examining the effect of its practices on childhood obesity. Ahead of the meeting, a group of more than 550 health-care professionals had issued a letter calling on the company to stop marketing its food to children by including toys in its Happy Meals and through its use of Ronald McDonald as a promotional figure. The group Corporate Accountability International paid to print full-page ads including the letter in six newspapers across the country last Wednesday.
According to a Reuters article on the shareholder vote, McDonald’s chief executive Jim Skinner praised the outcome, stating that the principle at hand was “the personal and individual right to choose.” The company had recommended that shareholders reject the proposal. McDonald’s also noted that it has added several healthier menu items in recent years, including salads and oatmeal. For Happy Meals, it offers the option of apples with caramel dipping sauce instead of French fries and chicken nuggets instead of a hamburger or cheeseburger. Some critics note that many of these supposedly healthier options are nevertheless high in sugar, fat, or salt.
Perhaps not coincidentally, on Tuesday of this week the price of McDonald’s Corp stock reached a record high, exceeding $83 for the first time.
What do you think — should McDonald’s be required, or at least pressured, to “police” itself for contributing to childhood obesity? Should the company cease all marketing efforts to children, or are critics wrong to view Happy Meal toys as a threat? How much responsibility does McDonald’s bear for childhood obesity, and how much belongs to parents who feed their children unhealthy food? Should a third party — such as the government — get involved, as San Francisco did last year by banning the sale of toys with unhealthy meals? Leave a comment below!