More than 550 health professionals and organizations have signed a letter to McDonald's Corp. asking the maker of Happy Meals to stop marketing junk food to kids and retire Ronald McDonald.
The letter, slated to run in the form of full-page ads in six metropolitan newspapers around the country on Wednesday, acknowledges that "the contributors to today's (health) epidemic are manifold and a broad societal response is required. But marketing can no longer be ignored as a significant part of this massive problem."
"We are committed to responsible advertising and take our communications to children very seriously," McDonald's said in a statement. "We understand the importance of children's health and nutrition, and are committed to being part of the dialogue and solution. We serve high quality food, and our Happy Meals offer choice and variety in portions just for kids. Parents tell us they appreciate our Happy Meal choices."
The campaign is organized by the nonprofit watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, which has also targeted tobacco companies and beverage makers like Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. for the environmental impact of plastic bottles.
The McDonald's letter, scheduled to run in ads in the Chicago Sun-Times, New York Metro, Boston Metro, San Francisco Examiner, Minneapolis City Pages and Baltimore City Paper, has been signed by such groups as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, as well as by well-known nutritionists and doctors like Andrew Weil, a doctor and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
The campaign also includes an effort to get McDonald's to produce a report assessing its "health footprint." A shareholder's resolution, submitted by the watchdog group and The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, calls on McDonald's to tally the financial impact of fighting various measures like the San Francisco ordinance passed last year that established nutritional standards for kids' meals that come with toys. It will be voted on at McDonald's annual meeting on Thursday.
Food makers that market to kids are coming under increased scrutiny. Last month, federal regulators proposed standards to which they're asking food makers to voluntarily adhere when marketing food to children.
Food marketed to kids ages 2 to 17 would have to contain healthy items and limit sodium, sugar, fat and calories, according to the proposed guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The letter from the health providers urges McDonald's to cease marketing food high in salt, fat, sugar and calories to kids, from the use of Ronald McDonald to Happy Meal toys.
Julie Jargon, The Wall Street Journal. May 18, 2011
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