Consumer Group CSPI Plans Action to Cut Toys from Happy Meals
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group focused on food issues, announced this week that they would be pursuing legal action to stop McDonald’s from including toys with their kid-centered Happy Meals. They claim the practice is “unfair and deceptive” and have given the chain 30 days to comply.
In 2006, fast-food companies spent more than $520 million on advertising and toys to promote children's meals, according to a U.S. Federal Trade Commission report. Such advertising appears to have significant influence over children and has come under scrutiny in the United States, where obesity is an epidemic.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CSPI, says that using toys to lure small children into the fast-food restaurant is illegal under state consumer protection laws.
Because of a 2007 pledge to adopt stricter guidelines on advertising aimed at children under the age of 12, McDonalds offers more than just the standard “burger-fries-soft drink” combination, such as the option to substitute apple slices or low-fat milk. However, CSPI states that kids are still given fries 93% of the time and soda 78% of the time.
McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal in June 1979. In addition to the meal, a “McDonaldland Cookie Sampler” was also offered.
The first Happy Meals had small restaurant-branded toys, such as a McDoodler stencil, a McWrist wallet or a McDonaldland character eraser. Today, the kids’ meals are often used to promote a current family-oriented movie, such as the recent promotion of “Shrek Forever After”. Toys are offered one at a time, so that consumers must buy multiple meals to complete the set.
"Tempting kids with toys is unfair and deceptive, both to kids who don't understand the concept of advertising, and to their parents, who have to put up with their nagging children," said Jacobson. "We've talked to McDonald's over the years about at least limiting the toys to the healthier Happy Meals, and never made any progress.”
The number of calories in the 24 different Happy Meal options ranges from 450-700. This represents more than one-third of the 1,300 daily calories recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 8, according to the CSPI.
“I think it's indisputable that cheap, high-calorie foods epitomized by fast foods have been a major contributor to this obesity epidemic,” Jacobson concluded.
McDonald's has called the group's charges a "misrepresentation". "Getting a toy is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald's," said spokesman William Whitman.