The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has notified McDonald’s Corp. that it intends to sue the company within 30 days if it does not immediately stop using toys to market its Happy Meals® to young children. The letter characterizes the practice as “illegal, because marketing to kids under eight is (1) inherently deceptive, because young kids are not developmentally advanced enough to understand the persuasive intent of marketing; and (2) unfair to parents, because marketing to children undermines parental authority and interferes with their ability to raise healthy children.” The June 22, 2010, letter claims that McDonald’s has violated the consumer protection laws of California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, and the District of Columbia.
According to CSPI, each of the 24 Happy Meals® food combinations is 26 percent higher on average in calories than a reasonable lunch and contains more saturated fat, sodium and sugar than a child should consume in a single meal. Offering toys, often related to popular movies and TV shows, to children, says CSPI, mobilizes “pester power” and “imprints on developing minds brand loyalty for McDonald’s. Because most of the company’s options (for young children and others) are of poor nutritional quality, eating Happy Meals promotes eating habits that are virtually assured to undermine children’s health.” The letter also states, “McDonald’s marketing has the effect of conscripting America’s children into an unpaid drone army of word-of-mouth marketers, causing them to nag their parents to bring them to McDonald’s.”