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Some Parents Not Happy With McDonald’s Kids Meals

April 20, 2011

The McDonald’s hamburger chain has responded to a lawsuit by suggesting that parents just tell their children “no” when it comes to buying Happy Meals if they do not want their children to have them. The lawsuit accuses McDonald’s of unfairly using toys to lure children into its restaurants, Reuters is reporting.

The plaintiff, Monet Parham, a Sacramento, California mother of two, charges that the company’s advertising violates California consumer protection laws.

The long-available Happy Meal has been a huge hit for McDonald’s, in effect making the burger and fries seller one of the world’s largest toy distributors also.

The use of toys in the Happy Meal has come under fire as well from public health officials, parents and lawmakers who are frustrated with rising childhood obesity rates and weak, mostly self-regulated, anti-obesity efforts from restaurant operators.

Parham, who filed suit last December, is represented by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group. In the lawsuit, Parham admits she frequently tells her children “no” when they ask for Happy Meals, McDonald’s said in Monday’s court filing.

McDonald’s, in asking for a dismissal, claims: “She was not misled by any advertising, nor did she rely on any information from McDonald’s.”

The suit was moved to a federal court at McDonald’s request, but the plaintiff insisted on seeing the lawsuit proceed before a California state judge. Should Parham’s lawsuit be allowed, it would spawn a host of other problematic legal proceedings, McDonald’s said.

“In short, advertising to children any product that a child asks for but the parent does not want to buy would constitute an unfair trade practice.”

Stephen Gardner, litigation attorney for the public interest group, said McDonald’s is using a cookie cutter approach to dismissing the lawsuit, with one key difference. “What is different about this motion is that McDonald’s has chosen to blame the victim — saying that it’s all Monet Parham’s fault if she doesn’t force her daughter to ignore the onslaught of McDonald’s marketing messages.”

“McDonald’s makes a lot of money by going around parents direct to kids, and it wants to continue with that strategy,” Gardner concluded.

The ban on advertising to children is self-regulated in the food industry with mixed results. The industry also has argued that government attempts to limit advertising is strangling free speech protections. Restaurants and food manufacturers have successfully fended off obesity-related lawsuits for years and have even pushed through state laws that ban obesity-related lawsuits.

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