Happy Meal

Can we really blame Ronald McDonald?

Childhood obesity is a real problem and, no pun intended, growing worse all the time. However, who really is at fault? Nutritionists and public health advocates want to blame fast food, sugared soft drinks, and junk food. Some cities have even gone so far as to enact bans on things such as McDonald’s Happy Meals, believing that marketing unhealthy foods to children is one of the reasons kids choose to eat such products and have become overweight.

This is truly a lame excuse for the condition of our children. Who is the target market for a Happy Meal? Children ages 2 through 8. Does this group have money? Can the average 5 year old get in the car and drive down to get fast food? The answer is an emphatic “No.”

It is the parents who buy the food. I have a very good friend who raised two boys and used to wear a t-shirt that read “What part of No don’t you understand?” An industry or a product should not be blamed for parents who can’t say no to their children or fail to provide balanced nutrition for their family. Parents are the ones who make the choices and as a democracy, the United States is a country in which freedom of choice is regarded as one of our basic and unalienable rights.

I think back to when I was growing up. As a child, a trip to a fast food outlet, be it for hamburgers or ice cream, was a treat—something that we looked forward to because it was a rare occurrence. Fast food was not part of our daily or weekly life. My parents made a choice and today’s parents have that same freedom.

What is really concerning is that we are evolving into a nation of people who seek to blame someone else for our problems. Your child is overweight so you blame McDonald’s. What about the fact that the local schools have eliminated physical education classes? Or that the child gets a half mile ride to school each day instead of walking? Or that he or she gets home and spends all their time in front of the television or computer instead of going outside to play?

Parents need to take responsibility for their own children and not look to blame the food they buy for their children’s weight and/or health. How long will it be before we begin blaming the phone companies for auto accidents that occur due to texting? People still smoke despite years of warning labels.

It is called choice and if you make a choice that turns out to be wrong, accept it, don’t blame someone else.

Comment by Richard F Stier, American Consulting Food Scientist, writing for the IFT’s ePerspective column.