A full-page ad ran in newspapers across the country today, urging McDonald's to stop marketing junk food to kids.
The ad was sponsored by more than 550 health institutions and professionals and appears in the Chicago Sun-Times, New York Metro, Boston Metro, San Francisco Examiner, Minneapolis City Pages and Baltimore City Paper.
It was purposefully placed in today's newspapers, one day ahead of McDonald's annual shareholders meeting, where a landmark resolution calling on the corporation to assess its impact on public health will be voted on.
The ad complements a new initiative – led by Corporate Accountability International – to collect enough signatures to pressure the quick-service giant to "retire its marketing promotions for food high in salt, fat, sugar and calories to children, whatever form they take – from Ronald McDonald to toy giveaways."
The announcement comes just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed sweeping new guidelines on junk food marketing to kids.
Petition includes wide range of health professionals
A variety of leading health institutions from the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has endorsed the letter.
It also has been signed by authorities such as 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.
"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."
Esther Sciammarella, executive director of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, noted that children in communities most targeted and impacted by McDonald's marketing are not as healthy, with less access to healthy food and nutrition education.
"But we do have more of one thing: McDonald's junk food and junk food marketing. It's time that changed," she said.
Changes promised, but many not sure if they've been made
As far back as 2007, McDonald's pledged to change its advertising practices toward kids 12 and under. Many, however, remain unconvinced that those efforts have been made.
A recent Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity's study on fast food marketing concluded that more than $4.2 billion was spent in 2009 on marketing and advertising in the QSR industry, with a heavy focus on children's marketing specifically.
The study also found that children as young as age 2 are seeing more fast food ads than ever before, and restaurants rarely offer parents the healthy kids' meal choices.
For example, McDonald's has 13 websites, attracting 365,000 unique child visitors under 12 every month. Its ronald.com website is specifically targeted to preschoolers.
According to Jennifer Harris of the Rudd Center, preschoolers see 21 percent more QSR ads on TV than they did seven years ago. Older children see about 34 percent more.
"Despite pledges to improve their marketing practices, fast food companies seem to be stepping up their efforts to target kids," Harris said.
These numbers have inspired organizations such as The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and others to step up their efforts in urging QSRs to stop marketing kids' meals with toys.
"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."
Group to present resolution
Just over a year ago, Corporate Accountability International called on McDonald's to retire Ronald McDonald and predatory marketing practices aimed toward kids.
The chain scaled back its use of Ronald, but hasn't retired the mascot all together.
Tomorrow at McDonald's annual shareholders' meeting, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and 13 additional institutional investors, in coalition with Corporate Accountability International, are advancing a 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.
The full page ad, "An open letter to McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner," appearing in today's newspapers can be seen here.