Doctors’ orders to McDonald’s: Stop marketing junk food to kids

May 17, 2011

For immediate release:
May 17, 2011

Contact:
Nick Guroff, 617-784-4753

CHICAGO – On Wednesday, more than 550 health institutions and professionals from all 50 states challenged McDonald’s to stop marketing junk food to kids with full-page ads and events in cities across the country.

The announcement of the new initiative (more information online at LetterToMcDonalds.org) comes just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed sweeping new guidelines on junk food marketing to kids. Tomorrow is also McDonald’s annual shareholders’ meeting where a landmark resolution calling on the corporation to assess its impact on public health will be voted on.

“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.”

A range of leading health institutions from the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have endorsed the letter featured in today’s ads.

The letter has been signed by authorities in their field like Dr. William C. Roberts, Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Cardiology; Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health; Dr. Deborah Burnet, Chief of General Medicine and a pediatrician at University of Chicago, as well as luminaries in the national public health community ranging from Dr. Andrew Weil to the Hollywood-immortalized medical doctor and clown, Patch Adams.

The full page ads appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times, New York Metro, Boston Metro, San Francisco Examiner, Minneapolis City Pages and Baltimore City Paper urge still more individuals and institutions to sign the open letter and share it with their peers.

“This initiative has struck a chord, particularly among health professionals who work in the communities most targeted and impacted by McDonald’s marketing,” said Esther Sciammarella, Executive Director of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition. “Children in these communities are not as healthy. Access to healthy food is limited. There is less nutrition education. But we do have more of one thing: McDonald’s junk food and junk food marketing. It’s time that changed.”

As the letter notes, a growing number of studies from the Institutes of Medicine to the National Bureau of Economic Research demonstrate that reducing junk food marketing to kids could spare the health of millions of children.

And though McDonald’s and its competitors have acknowledged the damaging role of its marketing in today’s public health crisis by pledging to voluntarily reduce it, a Yale-Rudd Center study recently found that kids’ exposure to fast food marketing has increased, in particular to McDonald’s ads. In 2009, small children were exposed to up to 25 percent more of the industry leader’s ads then they were in 2007.

“McDonald’s is trying to have its burger and eat it, too,” said Kelle Louaillier, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability International. “But the corporation is fooling no one, least of all those who see the results of its doublespeak every day in their waiting rooms. It’s time McDonald’s substituted real action for its nutri-washing.”

Just over a year ago, Corporate Accountability International called on McDonald’s to retire Ronald McDonald and the corporation’s suite of predatory marketing practices aimed at kids. Since that time, the corporation has waffled; first scaling back its use of Ronald, then doggedly promoting him in a recent ad campaign. The White House, and now the FTC, have recommended Big Food stop promoting junk food to children. In late 2010, policymakers took action and passed a measure in San Francisco setting basic nutritional standards for kids meals promoted with toy giveaways. New York City has proposed to do the same.

Growing public concern and among public officials regarding McDonald’s role in the epidemic of diet-related disease is creating a growing liability for the corporation. Tomorrow at its shareholders’ meeting, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, and 13 additional institutional investors, in coalition with Corporate Accountability International are advancing a shareholder resolution to address this concern. The resolution calls on McDonald’s to assess what such official measures, grassroots actions, and related shifts in public climate are having on the corporation’s bottom line.

It will be the first resolution introduced calling on a major corporation to address its impact on
public health, or “health footprint,” as well as the liabilities for shareholders’ of such impacts.

To view the ad, which was first published in Chicago, New York, Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco and Minneapolis, click here. 
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