Should Parents or Food Companies Teach Kids About Nutrition?

Staff Writer
Public health lawyer Michele Simon argues against child-directed food marketing

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

If you could — would you pick Ronald McDonald as a role model for your kids?

We wouldn’t. Neither would Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and well-established food activist. In response to a conference she recently attended on childhood obesity, Simon published an article on child-directed marketing tactics in the food industry. She addresses how effective and exploitative these methods can be, and not only proposes the above question, but highlights the inherent problem in answering it: Even if you don’t want Ronald McDonald to influence your children, he’s probably going to, anyway.

While advocacy groups have pushed companies to advertise healthier foods, Simon and Susan Linn in a collaborative Eat Drinks Politics piece argue that food companies shouldn’t market to kids — at all.

“Less sugar in Scooby-Doo cereal and more apple slices in Happy Meals will not make children healthier,” Simon and Linn insist. “Instead of settling for such crumbs, advocates should take stronger a stand to protect children and demand that such corporations stop engaging altogether in the unethical practice of marketing toward children.”

But with Ronald McDonald visiting elementary schools to supposedly teach children “the value of leadership and community involvement,” we have a long way to go. As RetireRonald.org notes, “He has become involved in every aspect of childhood, with appearances in some of the most unlikely places — from schools to hospitals.”

Like other youth-directed marketing methods, the McDonalds clown, behind his smiley makeup, is ultimately trying to make a clown of parents — who shouldn’t have to compete with major corporations to teach their kids proper nutrition. 

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