May 24, 2013

Watchdog group, Corporate Accountability International (CAI), says Ronald McDonald is the reason so many American kids are obese and they want McDonald’s to force their mascot into early retirement. But let’s face it, is the red-headed clown really the cause of America’s obesity problem? And if he is, what about Cap’n Crunch, SpongeBob SquarePants, and the zillions of other cartoon characters used to target young consumers?

CAI has been badgering McDonald’s to provide proof that its efforts to create a more nutritious menu are producing positive results. In 2011, the group, along with 550 health institutions and professionals, challenged McDonald’s to stop using Ronald to market junk food to kids.

“Today, our family practice offices, pediatric clinics, and emergency rooms are filled with children suffering from conditions related to the food they eat. These health problems will likely play out over their lifetime through early onset of diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.” said Dr. Steven K. Rothschild, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at Rush Medical College. “Through this initiative the public health community is rallying behind a simple message to McDonald’s: stop making the next generation sick – retire Ronald and the rest of your junk food marketing to kids.”

According to a whitepaper published in 2012 by Healthier Kids, Brighter Futures, one in three American children is overweight or obese, leading to $14 billion per year in related health care costs.

But McDonald’s CEO, Donald Thompson, says Ronald’s a pretty good guy and he has no intention of forcing him into early retirement. Thompson told shareholders, “We are not the cause of obesity. Ronald is not a bad guy. He’s about fun. He’s a clown. I’d urge you all to let your kids have fun, too.”

Tour any grocery store and take a look at all of the kid-centric marketing. Food processors and manufacturers have been using cartoon characters and super heroes to target young consumers since long before Mickey was a Mouse.

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has already tried to demonize sugary soft drinks and salt and the public fought back. But imagine the outcry if SpongBob SquarePants was forced from the shelves.

CAI may someday be able to force Ronald to take a hike, but what about all the other characters used to promote everything from apple juice to yogurt? Will they have to retire, too, before Americans finally get it through their head that it’s the parents who are responsible for their children’s eating habits?

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