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Kids deserve a break today: parents, health experts, children’s advocates call on McDonald’s to Retire Ronald

For Immediate Release:
March 31, 2010

Contact:
Christina Rossi, 617-306-0920
Nick Guroff, 617-784-4753
Kyra Harris, 617-447-2510

NEW YORK – After close to fifty years of hawking fatty food directly to kids, Ronald McDonald is being urged to retire. A new report and national poll released today by Corporate Accountability International finds that close to half of the public favors the clown’s retirement. Even those with a positive impression of the corporate mascot are conflicted, with almost half favoring his exit.

The findings come amid growing recognition of the fast food industry’s primary role in driving the epidemic of childhood obesity and diet-related disease. Close to 60 percent of Americans now feel the industry is responsible for the growing epidemic. The report, Clowning With Kids’ Health, analyzes how Ronald McDonald and other children’s marketing are at the heart of current trends.

“This clown is no friend to our children or their health,” said Senior Organizer Deborah Lapidus of Corporate Accountability International. “No icon has ever been more effective in hooking kids on a harmful product. Kids have become more obese and less healthy on his watch. He’s a deep-fried Joe Camel for the 21st Century. He deserves a break, and so do our kids.”

The new poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners for Corporate Accountability International. It found:

  • Two out of three Americans have a favorable impression of Ronald McDonald – the result of fifty years of positive branding.
  • Yet over half say they, “favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell harmful products to children.” 
  • 47 percent support retiring Ronald as a corporate mascot.
  • Even among those with a favorable impression of Ronald McDonald, 46 percent support retiring him.

In the past 30 years, the percentage of obese children has tripled in children ages 2 to 5, and quadrupled in children ages 6 to 11. While researchers acknowledge that kids need more exercise, there’s no firm evidence kids have been less active over the past decade. However, there is a documented increase in the consumption of McDonald’s-style fast food.

McDonald's spends more than a billion dollars each year on marketing in the U.S. alone. That’s more than any other fast food chain, Coca-Cola, and leading junk food manufacturers like Kellogg’s and General Mills. Much of it is spent advertising directly to children. Kids under twelve command up to $50 billion in direct purchasing power, and influence $670 billion in family purchases.

As the report points out, McDonald’s pioneered the practice of marketing to children; a practice that has since spawned thousands of imitators, and afforded McDonald’s its long reign as the industry leader. Unfortunately, McDonald’s success depends on the exploitation of children’s vulnerabilities not the discretion of free-thinking adults. Young children are unable
to understand advertising’s persuasive intent. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that, “advertising directed toward children is inherently deceptive and exploits children under eight years of age.”

“Ronald’s everywhere, so parents can’t constantly monitor his influence and no one’s better at making children desire what's unhealthy,” said Frances Moore Lappé, co-founder and co-director of the Small Planet Institute. “It’s time Ronald stopped inundating our children and hindering parents’ best efforts to feed their kids well. He’s had his day, the sad results are in, and it’s time for him to go.”

For the full poll results, an analysis of Ronald McDonald’s pervasive presence on the American landscape, a background on the psychology behind children’s marketing and more visit www.RetireRonald.org.

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