May 20, 2011

McDonald’s Shareholders Vote Against Obesity Proposal

At its annual meeting Thursday, McDonald's stockholders rejected a recent obesity proposal and defended its right to advertise to children.

Critics of the McDonald's franchise have pounded the company's executives for offering unhealthy menu items as well as for marketing fast food to children with its Ronald McDonald mascot and Happy Meal toys.

The proposal would have required McDonald's to issue a report outlining its role in the childhood obesity epidemic, but shareholders of the food chain voted against it, saying that customers were free to make their own dietary choices.

McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner says, "This is about choice and we believe in the democratic process." The statement received enthusiastic applause from a packed room of shareholders as he continued, "This is about the personal and individual right to choose."

However, Juliana Shulman, national campaign organizer for Corporate Accountability International says that children are susceptible to the advertising that McDonald's spends millions of dollars on every year.

She is quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying, "For adults that's one thing, but children aren't just little adults. Their brains are just forming. McDonald's marketing is really designed to get around parents and get to kids directly. For nearly 50 years, McDonald's has been working to hook kids on unhealthy foods"¦. Parents are exercising parental responsibility. That alone won't stop the problem."

Dr. Steven Rothschild, director of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, along with 549 other healthcare professionals signed an open letter to McDonald's pleading that it "stop making the next generation sick," reports Reuters.

"You don't put a clown in front of an adult face because it's a happy association. It's aimed at children," Rothschild told the LA Times.

He says, "Parents do have to say no to their children. This is not the nanny state issue. This is one of creating conditions that make it a fair fight "” so parents can make good choices, so they have McDonald's working with them not against them."

At the annual meeting, Skinner firmly stated that "Ronald McDonald is an ambassador to McDonald's and he is an ambassador for good. Ronald McDonald is going nowhere."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity in childhood increases the risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and many other diseases, reports Reuters.

McDonald's executives say that they are working towards becoming part of the solution. So far parents are allowed to request milk or juice instead of soda in Happy Meals, and also offers sliced apples with caramel sauce and chicken nuggets alongside french fries and hamburgers.

"We now provide more choice and variety than anyone else in the industry," says a company spokesperson. "Fruit and walnut oatmeal is the latest example, and that complements our premium salads, apple dippers, and 1% low-fat milk."

Healthier options such as salads and oatmeal have also been added to McDonald's menu, but critics argue that there is still too much fat, salt and sugar in its meals. Reuter reports that its Oatmeal contains as much sugar as a Snickers candy bar.

McDonald's marketing strategy was defended by Skinner. The company boasts huge sales and earnings for shareholders, with shares gaining nearly 12 percent in the last four months even in the midst of a tough economy, rallying to a record high of $82.63 on Thursday, reports Reuters.


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