a peek inside the fishbowl

08 May, 2013

This mom is not lovin’ it

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Yaktivism

(Click on this image to enlarge it.)

This post is part of an online action designed to send a message to McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson.

This Mother’s Day, moms around the world want a special gift: the end of fast food marketing directed at our children.

We don’t need to compete with a corporation when we’re trying to feed our kids.

McDonald’s designs its marketing to get around parents at every turn. I don’t think it’s right that there are toys in Happy Meals, that Olympic athletes are used to shill junk food, and that McDonald’s uses children’s movies (the Croods being a recent example) to cross promote and sell more junk food to kids.

According to Corporate Accountability International and the Value [the] Meal Campaign:

  • McDonald’s spent about $115 million advertising Happy Meals in 2010.
  • McDonald’s continues to market its junk food aggressively to kids, despite the staggering cost to children’s health.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 kids born in the year 2000 are expected to get type-2 diabetes in their lifetime.
  • This generation may be the first in history to live shorter lives than their parents.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts have noted that marketing to children under 8 is “inherently deceptive” and “wholly exploitative.” Kids are not simply little adults; their brains are still developing and they cannot yet distinguish between marketing and reality. What’s more, the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates banning junk food marketing during children’s television programming.

For them, it’s all about profit, but the cost is too big.

I am fed up with McDonald’s efforts to shape the eating habits of our children. If you are too, consider sharing the infographic at the top of this page. You can share it from here. All it takes is one click to send your message.


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49 Responses to "This mom is not lovin’ it"

1 | Javamom

May 8th, 2013 at 9:16 am

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Doesn’t that just irk? It irks me…the other day someone tweeted some positive thing about Ronald McDonald house, a charity that does good for children. Thing is, I can’t in good conscious donate to that charity. It’s linked to McDonalds and everything I am against in terms of food, advertising, etc.

I will send a message per your link later today. Thanks for this post.

2 | Giulia Doyle

May 8th, 2013 at 9:17 am

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It’s not the under 8 year olds that are walking into McD’s buying the food. It’s the parents. We don’t allow our kids to play with toys or sports equipment dangerous to them, why can’t we as parents be responsible and not take our kids to Mc Donalds? Your kids might beg and plea for a toy you can’t afford and you tell them no and don’t get it. Why is it so much harder to say no to getting a happy meal?
Yes, they do spend advertising money targeted to families with kids, but I’m sick of blame game – nobody is forcing you to walk into McDonalds.

3 | Stephanie Shier

May 8th, 2013 at 9:25 am

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110% agree with Giulia Doyle!!! Parents need to take responsibility for what they feed their children. End of story.

4 | andrea tomkins

May 8th, 2013 at 9:27 am

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It’s true that parents make the purchasing decision, but I don’t think you can deny that kids wield an awful lot of power over the family pocketbook and contribute to many purchasing decisions – including food.

I’d like parents being the ONLY ones making the decision to eat there, not the kids.

5 | andrea tomkins

May 8th, 2013 at 9:29 am

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So Giulia and Stephanie – so do you think that advertising to kids is okay? Ask yourself: Why would McDonald’s spend so much money on advertising to children if it wasn’t proven to work?

6 | andrea tomkins

May 8th, 2013 at 9:31 am

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I’ve also bookmarked this paper for later reading:

Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing. It’s by a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University. She is also the director of the Children’s Digital Media Center.

http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/18_01_09.pdf

7 | Giulia Doyle

May 8th, 2013 at 9:36 am

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@Andrea Who let’s the kids watch all the TV and advertising segments? Who taught the kids in the first place that getting a toy with your food is awesome? What about ToysRUs,Wallmart, Sears etc that all target kids with their awesome toys that every kid just HAS TO HAVE. You still hold the pocket book.
We don’t get cable, so my kids don’t watch ads. We do go to McDonald’s from time to time and they enjoy it and enjoy the toy they get. I also buy poutine from a chip wagon from time to time and you allow your girls special treats when you go camping.
I find targeting teenagers a lot more worrisome because they are fragile, impressionable and have their own money.

8 | andrea tomkins

May 8th, 2013 at 9:41 am

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Giulia: You are worried about teens? Young kids are MUCH more impressionable. :)

You don’t watch commercial TV, but the vast majority does.

9 | Giulia Doyle

May 8th, 2013 at 9:48 am

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Yes, but a four year old doesn’t have money to walk into the store and get the Happy Meal – plus, what is the kid going to do – wrestle you to the ground if you don’t go to McD’s? Common, I’m just tired of everyone blaming everyone else for things that they can control.
I guess we can agree to disagree. My point is that parents make the decisions, not the kids.

10 | TorontoMom

May 8th, 2013 at 9:59 am

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I have no problem with McDonalds – we eat there from time to time as a family because we are on the go and need something quick – plus I like their coffee. My kids understand that it is a treat, not an everyday thing. They could care less about the toys. What makes me sad is that so many families who exist on limited budgets use restaurants like McDonalds to feed their young children because they get can cheap filling food for less than they can afford at the grocery store. That is the tragedy – and that is not something you can lay solely at McDonald’s doorstep.

11 | Sarah McCormack

May 8th, 2013 at 10:48 am

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Not sure WHY I don’t agree completely with you on this one. McDonalds is what it has always been.. and if you want to choose that food for your family you can. We occasionally visit a McDonalds on a road trip (my DH hates it) and get icecream, or nuggets and it’s a treat for the boys.

When we were kids they heavily advertised to us, with the multiple characters- Hamburgular etc. that has been scaled back. and Ronald McDonald House is a legitimate charity that does a ton of good.

So, I get what you are saying but I don’t mind having a McDonalds on the list of choices when you want “fast food”, it’s just not a regular choice for us.

12 | Lenny

May 8th, 2013 at 11:20 am

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I agree with much that is being said hear and I commend those who have spoken up.

This campaign is yet another example of a troubling pattern that prevails in current society, that of the victim mentality.

The best way to equip our children so that they are able to make good decisions is to empower them by showing them they have both the ability to resist temptation and the responsibility for the choices they make. This message will serve them in many ways, most notably when it comes to peer pressure or a hyper-driven consumer society.

Even as little ones our children could comprehend the idea that although there was much out there to be had, it didn’t mean you had to have it. That lesson has served them, and us, in immeasurable ways as they have grown up.

13 | andrea tomkins

May 8th, 2013 at 11:42 am

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I am rushing so I can’t address the comments at this time, but I will summarize my argument thusly:

- Studies have shown that children are highly impressionable and even though they may not carry cash they do influence purchasing decisions made by their parents. Hard to believe, but it’s true.
- McDonald’s takes advantage of this by spending millions of dollars marketing to young kids in a variety of different ways. Their goal is to create lifelong consumers – starting from when they are toddlers – and I don’t think that’s ok. Do you?

Some further food for thought via MediaSmarts.ca (http://mediasmarts.ca/marketing-consumerism/marketing-consumerism-special-issues-young-children)

Junk food advertising and nutrition concerns

“By the time they’re five, chil­dren have seen an av­er­age of more than 4,000 food com­mer­cials an­nu­al­ly.”
UCLA World Science, 2010

In its 2006 brief to the Government of Canada’s Standing Committee on Health, the Canadian Paediatric Society noted that most food advertising on children’s TV shows is for fast foods, soft drinks, candy and pre-sweetened cereals—while commercials for healthy food make up only 4 per cent of those shown.

Fast food chains spend more than 3 billion dollars a year on advertising, much of it aimed at children. To directly target children, the fast food industry uses more than traditional commercials. Restaurants offer incentives such as playgrounds, contests, clubs, games, and free toys and other merchandise related to movies, TV shows and even sports leagues.
In 1999 child advocates condemned PBS for licensing of Teletubbies merchandise to Burger King and McDonald’s, but that hasn’t stopped the fast food cross-promotion trend. As author Eric Schlosser explains in his book Fast Food Nation, “America’s fast food culture has become indistinguishable from the popular culture of its children.”

The result of all this aggressive marketing of fast food, soft drinks and candy to children is a population where considerable concerns have been raised about obesity by health experts. According to the Canadian Childhood Obesity Foundation, 26% of children and youth (1.6 million children) are considered overweight or obese). The connection between food advertising and children’s eating habits has been well documented: in 2005 a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that nine out of 10 food advertisements shown during Saturday morning cartoons were for foods of poor nutritional value. In a 2009 Yale University study, children ages 7 to 11 who watched a half-hour cartoon that included food commercials ate 45 per cent more snack food while watching the show than children who watched the same cartoon with non-food commercials.

[So yes, I think marketing to kids is a problem!]

14 | Stephanie Shier

May 8th, 2013 at 1:03 pm

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There always has and always will be marketing towards children. It’s not only McDonalds and fast food joints. What about sugary cereals? What about sugary fruit drinks? Add on Pop Tarts and Toaster Studels……Ice Cream….I think the list can go on and on. Yes kids are impressionable – if you bring them up on healthy food and incorporate daily exercise, you’re grooming them to continue that as they grow up into adults. Parents need to be held accountable for the health of their children. Enough with the blame game.

15 | karen

May 8th, 2013 at 1:15 pm

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I don’t like all the advertising towards kids. I don’t think that McDonalds is doing anything different than countless other companies. I don’t like it but I think that I believe they have a right to do it.

I tend to agree with Guilia about the teenagers. I have a daughter who will be 15 in a few months. It wasn’t that long ago that I controlled most of what she ate. She started high school last fall and guess where her and her peers are spending the majority of their money. On food. Junk food, fast food.

16 | Pamela

May 8th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

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We don’t feed my step kids McDonald’s. Neither does their mother. We don’t have cable TV in either home. Yet somehow, whenever we drive by one the 8-year-old sighs and whines, “j’aime beaucoup mcdonalds.” (We say no.) I have no idea how they’re getting to him, but they are. Their marketing forces are simply too powerful.

17 | Maranda

May 8th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

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although i don’t agree with marketing to children, i agree that the responsibility lies in the parents, both in making the purchasing decisions and when it comes to exposing their children to advertising. i have four kids. we don’t eat at mcdonald’s (except the occasional ice cream in the summer) and they don’t watch programming with advertising. know what? they never ask to go to mcdonalds. my 4 year old thinks mcdonald’s is a place to buy coffee. b/c as much as i dislike their marketing practices they still have the best take out coffee around ;)

18 | Maranda

May 8th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

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“It’s true that parents make the purchasing decision, but I don’t think you can deny that kids wield an awful lot of power over the family pocketbook and contribute to many purchasing decisions – including food.

I’d like parents being the ONLY ones making the decision to eat there, not the kids.”

I sometimes let my kids make purchasing decisions, because how are they ever going to learn to make good decisions if we don’t let them right?, but it’s still within parameters i set. My kids don’t get to choose if we eat at mcdonald’s or not, just like they don’t get to decide we’re having cookies for dinner. i value their input, but at the same time i’m teaching them to make good decisions.

19 | Misty Pratt

May 8th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

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I think all parties involved have to take responsibility. Yes, it’s important to shelter our children from advertising (or at least help them to think critically about it) and avoid junk food restaurants. However, we are SO inundated with this stuff, that a parent can’t expect to be able to take charge of everything. Children are influenced by advertising as well as peers, and if we are too strict, children will just end up bingeing on this stuff when they have the chance. It’s like the parent who is very restrictive about sugar – you can bet that your child will overindulge on sugar when given the chance, because we haven’t taught them how to eat it in moderation. I think placing some of the blame on the corporations is completely valid, and we should also be demanding better from our governments and schools.

20 | Maranda

May 8th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

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I agree Misty. As a parent i’m personally concerned with the EXTREME amount of junk food present in our schools. Food as rewards (without parental consent), food for celebrations, junk food fundraisers and in the middle and high schools cafeterias that nothing more than fast food restaurants. Most of us don’t have a lot of choice in where/if we send our kids to school and the constant barrage of junk food handed out and available for sale drives me insane. At least tv commercials are within my control, and if we do encounter fast food advertising somehow I’m there to discus it with them. Schools are places of learning and government funded and should be required to do better.

Also i’m certainly not saying never give kids treats, we definitely need to teach balance and moderation as part of raising kids. I just want to be the one to do it, not schools or other outside forces. Corporations, as part of society, should do better too. However their main goal is not raising kids, it’s making money. If parents allow their marketing practices to work, they’re going to keep doing it.

21 | kev

May 8th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

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I find it interesting that so many folks here put the responsibility squarely on the parents, when there’s a tonne of influence completely out of their control. I don’t see it as a simple issue, because part of those marketing dollars aren’t just TV, they’re partnerships with sports associations, charities, and other orgs, like Weight Watchers.

They’re pervasive, and while programs like McAtoms feel good, they’re marketing as well, and it helps to burn the brand in.

This isn’t about good or bad parenting, or who controls purchasing decisions. It’s about putting some limits on who organizations try to influence. Anyone under the age of 14 has very limited say in the decisions they make (legally), and you probably wouldn’t want someone walking up to your kids and telling them how awesome McDonalds was when you’re not around (beyond the creep factor).

Why do so many people give corps a pass here? If the purchasing power lies with the parents, then that’s where the marketing should be directed.

22 | Loukia

May 8th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

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I take my children to McDonald’s, sometimes. Certainly not often. And when we go, they eat a Happy Meal, and we usually toss the toy. Do we all enjoy it? Absolutely we do! I have memories of going to McDonald’s as a child for a special treat and I loved it then, too. My chilldren eat well most of the time, (kind of hard not too with two sets of Greek grandparents and a set of great-grandparents cooking nothing but the healthiest Greek food every day!) but I believe “everything in moderation.” I also truly believe that my kids have never seen an image of McDonald’s and needed/wanted/asked me to take them.. not once in their lives. Not from a commercial, and certainly not from any toys they don’t even keep that come in their Happy Meals. I also love that they give back so much, to the community, in so many ways. Also, when my kids watch TV, it’s usually something already recorded so we always fast-forward through commercials. Ads don’t work on my kids!
My children have never asked for McDonald’s, but I do take them there for the rare treat.

23 | KJT

May 8th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

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Criticizing McDonald’s (and the toy and food companies that market to children) and understanding the responsibility of parents are not mutually exclusive concepts. This is not about “blame” or “victims.” Andrea’s comments are an important part of resisting the grip that advertising has on all of us, young and old. I was incredulous to hear some years ago about Coca-Cola holding focus groups with teenagers so the teens could help the company better understand how to influence them! Yes, help your children learn the lessons of consumerism, yes, give in sometimes, but don’t let McDonald’s and others off the hook. Passivity (and smugness) don’t advance things.

24 | Loukia

May 8th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

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Also, I’m sort of on the side that but why shouldn’t McDonald’s advertise to children? They’re not the ones getting in the car and driving through drive-thru. Just because your kid asks for something doesn’t mean they’re going to get it, right? How many commercials did I see on TV as a child and BEG my children for that Barbie/Ball/Game and didn’t get? It’s up to the parents! Fair game, I think, to advertise just like every other company does (think of every toy company!) nd if it wasn’t for McDonald’s or Coca-Cola many athletes couldn’t compete in the Olympics, etc. And as for the food being totally bad for you, at least there are healthier options like salads and yogurt… just my two cents. :)

25 | binki

May 8th, 2013 at 4:50 pm

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When my daughter was 2, we were driving back from Toronto and I stopped to gas up. It was a MacDonald’s service centre. We were hungry, so I decided to try to find something to eat for both of us (we’d never been to a MacDonald’s with her). My daughter nibbled at the burger and fries but seemed really sad about the food. She asked if we could eat something else.
At that moment I knew without a doubt that one of the best things I could ever do for her was to never ever return to a MacDonald’s. That was 10 years ago. We’ve never been back. I have told my daughters that MacDonald’s is a place that sells bad food that hurts kids and adults. They fear MacDonald’s. Yeah, it’s a bit twisted but then so is MacDonald’s.

Having said that, I think a campaign that gets folks to tell MacDonald’s they should not target / bombard wee ones with ads, is a good idea. It can’t hurt. And while we’re at it, how about changing the rules on tv ads? No junk food ads and no dumb toy ads (including videogames, iPod, etc) during kids’ programming. Or better yet, stop ads that are aimed at kids. Sounds too good to be true? Not possible? This can and is done…in Québec. I flip from English to French on tv (when watching with the kids) and it’s shocking.

Parenting is not easy. How about we all just do the best we can and not cut down those who don’t meet our standards or think the way we do. And speaking of which….dads also care about their kids. A lot. How about we all use the word parent instead of Mom when it comes to discussions, issues and joys of parenting.

26 | Stacey K

May 8th, 2013 at 5:00 pm

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I am surprised that this is even a controversial topic… I would have thought that protecting our kids from manipulative marketing before they are capable of understanding the manipulation would be a no-brainer. Yes, I am in control of what my children eat. BUT… I don’t appreciate multi-national corporations telling my kids that the food at restaurant XYZ is better/more exciting/”cooler” than what I am feeding them at home. I don’t appreciate corporations encouraging my kids to ask me for things that I am going to say no to.

I have it pretty easy, as my kids are not exposed to very much advertising at home. At school, on the other hand… is there a petition anywhere to get Scholastic catalogs out of schools? I would sign it in a heartbeat.

27 | Ginger

May 8th, 2013 at 7:43 pm

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I really don’t think this marketing is targeted to the type parent that reads here. Parents reading this blog and others like it aren’t ones to be as easily swayed by marketing. There are plenty of people who struggle with parenting…who don’t have the skills or the time or the support system or the education to read and learn and make informed choices. Or maybe they just don’t have the same values and priorities. Maybe we should be trying to help protect those children and families. Marketing like this seems like a type of social reform to me and social reform, in my opinion, is about helping the collective community. There are always people that don’t need the help. There are people who will ignore the help. But there are people who will be helped by the reform.

One social reform that comes to mind is requiring calorie counts on menus. How many people have made better choices because they see those numbers staring back at them? Sure there are people who ignore them. But I know I have made better choices by seeing those numbers.

28 | coffeewithjulie

May 8th, 2013 at 7:45 pm

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If we need to stop corporations from marketing to children, then we have a big mountain climb. McD’s is definitely not the only corporation that uses this technique. Like others have mentioned, there’s cartoon characters plastered on every sugary, salty, junk food imaginable out there.

Personally, I am less concerned about the effect that McD’s marketing can have on my children than I am with the sexual objectification of young girls and women in all kinds of marketing — from toys, and clothes, to body and bath products. I guess certain issues are closer to different hearts.

29 | TorontoMom

May 8th, 2013 at 7:51 pm

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All I can say is welcome to parenthood. I have to make 100s of difficult decisions every week. We say yes to some requests and no to most. It’s my job and sure mass marketing makes it a bit tougher at times but I signed up to shepherd these little people through life and to give them the best possible chance of becoming thoughtful well meaning successful citizens. I will do that job in the face of any and all opposition- because only I am responsible for my kids, not my neighbor, not my school, and certainly the media.

30 | Nikki

May 8th, 2013 at 7:52 pm

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I’m definitely in agreement that it is unethical for McDonald’s to market to kids. But I don’t think that in a free market, it is reasonable to expect a company to cut out an enormous percentage of their market because I don’t like their ethics. I think the issue needs to be addressed a regulatory level, much like tobacco marketing has been.

Also, as an aside: Ronald McDonald house is an amazing charity that is filling an enormous need in our communities, a need that is not being met by anyone else. (Although I must note that the Rotary Club’s Rotel does similar work in Ottawa.) When my son was in CHEO’s NICU and PICU, we often heard that RMH and the Rotel were both full. (Thankfully we could just drive the 15 minutes home for a shower and a change of clothes.) Families come from as far away as Nunavut to access CHEO’s services and can be here for months on end. They could literally bankrupt themselves on hotel bills if RMH didn’t exist. I don’t like McDonald’s but I think RMH is a really important charity and deserves support. (Not through McHappy Day, though. Skip the unhealthy food and make a donation straight to RMH instead of the measly $1 from McHappy Day.)

31 | Mary @ Parenthood

May 8th, 2013 at 8:56 pm

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I’m 100% behind the wish to eliminate marketing to kids. It’s a real problem and a lot of research supportsAndrea when she says this isn’t something that a parent can “eliminate” by simply being “firm”. (Much as I wish it were, since firm is something I can do!). Not convinced? Suggest you do some reading on the topic; I found “Consuming Kids” quite well written but there are quite a few…

That said, I am a little surprised to see McD as a target. Firstly I don’t think they are doing anything unusual compared to their competitors (I’d rather see a petition to advertising standards body to ban all advertising aimed at children period). But more importantly I don’t think McD is all that popular with kids compared to some other places that have equally poor options. When I was a teenager (late 90s), McD was popular, yes. But since then I have taught a lot of kids and teens in varying Sunday school classes of varying backgrounds and McD was considered “uncool” and “unhealthy”. We couldn’t give away a gift card I bought; they complained bitterly that Tim Hortons or Subway would have been much better. I’m currently not surrounded by teenagers (last couple of years) so I don’t know if McD has made a comeback but certainly the kids I see frequently (under 10) are more likely to whine for pizza than McD.

33 | Wendy

May 8th, 2013 at 11:34 pm

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I wish I could take credit for CoffeewithJulie’s comment..:-)

She put it out there way better than I would hope to.

Thank you..:-)

34 | andrea tomkins

May 9th, 2013 at 9:16 am

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Helloooo! Well, hasn’t this been a great discussion so far! Thank you all for your passionate comments. I really appreciate how many people have taken the time to jot down their thoughts. :)

I think many of us will have to agree to disagree but I wanted to take a minute to address a couple of things.

A few of you have said that marketing to children is monumental and impossible to change. CoffeewithJulie wrote (not to pick on you Julie but I’m quoting you because you put it succinctly!): “If we need to stop corporations from marketing to children, then we have a big mountain climb.”

It is a big mountain, that’s true. But others have done it, so why not here? In Quebec it’s illegal to market to children. According to Wikipedia in the United Kingdom, Greece, Denmark, and Belgium advertising to children is restricted, and in Sweden and Norway advertising to children under the age of 12 is illegal. [source]

Kids ARE highly susceptible to marketing. This is a documented fact. Pester power IS real. It’s hard to believe but kids DO have purchasing power in their families. It’s great that so many of you are able to serve a healthy meal and talk to your kids about what it means to eat well, and say “no” when the golden arches come into view, but the vast majority of parents do not.

Many of you don’t watch commercial television either but this does not meant your kids won’t be exposed to McDonald’s efforts to reach them. McDonald’s KNOWS THIS, and as a result have designed all kinds of ways to reach kids outside of the television set to build brand loyalty starting at a very young age. They’re in the classrooms, on the soccer field, on school busses, on billboards, on the Internet… even the most diligent parent can’t avoid it.

I urge you all to read this post because she did a great job of laying it out:

http://civileats.com/2013/05/08/time-for-action-moms-and-marketing-to-kids-dont-mix/

Here is the crux of the argument for me:

“Marketing junk food and drink to kids is big business. McDonald’s alone spent close to $1 billion on advertising in the United States in 2011. Forty percent of this on marketing directly to kids.

We know this food marketing works: it gets kids to prefer McDonalds and to just eat more—period. With diet-related illnesses afflicting so many young people, marketing to kids and teens is downright dangerous.”

Many of you have asked: why target McDonald’s here? Well, why not? They are one of the BIGGEST advertisers to children, one of the BIGGEST distributors of toys, and a brand that almost every kid recognizes.

Ever wonder what happens to in kids’ brains when you drive by the golden arches? Read this story. Research suggests that children can recognize brand logos before they can recognise their own name. The golden arches tops the list of recognizable logos by young kids. This bugs me, but I realize that some of you aren’t persuaded. That’s ok. I am just surprised that so many people are willing to give McDonald’s a pass, that it’s ok that a huge company to make massive profits at the expense of the health of our children.

For more food for thought, watch this: http://youtu.be/0bop3D7-dDM

35 | andrea tomkins

May 9th, 2013 at 9:23 am

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Jessica Gottlieb blogged about this initiative too. Here’s her post: http://jessicagottlieb.com/2013/05/mcdonalds-mothers-day-wish-momsnotlovinit/

36 | andrea tomkins

May 9th, 2013 at 9:26 am

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I also meant to add that I don’t buy the “free market” argument. We restrict advertising of all kinds of things to kids… smoking and alcohol being a couple of examples. So why not fast food?

37 | Cath in Ottawa

May 9th, 2013 at 10:55 am

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Great discussion. I am currently reading ‘Sugar, Fat, Salt’ by Michael Moss and highly recommend it as a succint and fascinating examination of ‘how the food giants hooked us’.

In our family, McDonalds is much less of an issue than sugary cereals (which I hugely resent, since I have to pass down the cereal aisle every time I shop, as opposed to McDs which we only pass occasionally) but I also think any step towards greater corporate accountability – as a corollary to, not a substitute for, parental action – is good.

38 | valerie

May 9th, 2013 at 11:37 am

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Andrea, I agree with you in many ways. If the big mountain is your argument, that works for SO many wrong things in this world – we have to start somewhere and little things CAN make a difference.

I think Ginger had it right – the parents reading this blog are well educated and not the ones at which these campaigns are aimed. Obesity and related health problems are a big issue and fast food is a major contributor – saying that it’s not an issue for your own family doesn’t change the stats or help anyone on the wrong side of those stats.

39 | andrea tomkins

May 9th, 2013 at 11:58 am

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Am posting a link to this particle here so I don’t forget to read it:

Review of Effects, Strategies, and Tactics
Food Advertising Directed at Children

40 | Vivian

May 9th, 2013 at 12:01 pm

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Phew. This is a great discussion! I’ll second Cath in Ottawa’s recommendation for the book ‘Sugar, Fat, Salt’. It’s an eye-opening look at how the big food companies directly manipulate the addictive qualities of their so-called-food.

Much like Giulia, my family also doesn’t have cable, so I find the influence of TV just doesn’t factor into my child’s ‘demands’. The biggest outside influence would be the school yard — which turns this all into a societal problem.

Some families do eat what would be considered ‘junk’ food (e.g. froot gummies, or sugar cereals) in our house, and as a parent, I’ve had to explain to my 6 yo just why we don’t eat certain foods.

I think that McDonald’s and other big food companies will always try to market to children in whatever way they legally can. While Ronald McDonald House is a notable charity, it’s not by accident that they’re there to associate happiness, children, and their ‘food’.

I do think that as a society more emphasis needs to placed on health and food education – teaching basic cooking skills starting from a very young age, so that these future adults don’t need to rely on fast food to feed their families when they’re in a time or money crunch.

41 | Lenny

May 9th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

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Just an FYI regarding the campaign that triggered this awesome discussion, it is a US based organization that created this campaign and I suspect that the regulations in the US when it comes to advertizing to children are different than in Canada.

If anyone is interested in knowing what is in place in Canada you can read about it at the CRTC website here:

http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/info_sht/b300.htm

and Advertizing Standards Canada here:
http://www.adstandards.com/en/clearance/childrens/broadcastCodeForAdvertisingToChildren.aspx

42 | Melissa

May 9th, 2013 at 2:40 pm

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I really have difficulty with the idea that children (those who are not yet earners) have purchasing power in their families. I can understand that their likes and dislikes are given consideration in purchasing decisions. However, if a parent allows their child to “wield their purchasing power” and foregoes their better judgement in order to appease a child, well, I don’t know … I’m guessing the approach will prove problematic over the long-term.

On another note, Andrea cited a number of European and Nordic countries that have taken steps to ban junk food advertising to children. I would be curious to know whether this has actually translated into reduced childhood obesity rates.

I would also be curious to know the extent to which the range of advertising mediums beyond T.V and the internet cited in the article (i.e., advertising on school buses, school gyms, yearbooks etc.) actually apply in the Canadian context. If it is the case that schools are becoming increasing reliant on corporate sponsorship, this is likely indicative of a broader issue with the availability of financing for our schools.

My last comment is that I do feel we need to rethink the corporations which we target. Like many of you, we do not have cable television and we do not frequent McDonald’s, so the golden arches are meaningless to my children. Coincidentally, the first corporate symbol that they were able to recognize was the green twin-tailed mermaid that once adorned my coffee cup every morning . My point is that while corporations like Starbucks are not on our radar as they do not target children, I have no doubt that Starbucks, which is not exactly a haven for healthy choices, will some day have a very loyal legion of consumers in our children through the indirect advertising which they are subjected to through their parents.

43 | andrea tomkins

May 10th, 2013 at 9:23 am

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Just spotted this article and thought it might be of interest:

Curb junk food ads aimed at children, group says
Current generation may live ‘shorter, less healthy lives’ as a result poor diets

Canadian children under 13 shouldn’t be exposed to marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, a coalition of medical groups says.

Thursday’s policy statement from the Canadian Medical Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Hypertension Canada, College of Family Physicians of Canada and others calls on food companies to immediately stop marketing foods high in fats, added sugars or sodium to children. (Read the rest right here.)

44 | Sarah

May 10th, 2013 at 12:22 pm

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Fast food advertising is (largely) unrestricted because the substance/product they are selling isn’t government regulated in the same way alcohol or tobacco is. Government has a stake in alcohol and tobacco but by cracking down on advertising to children re: fast food, they would technically be intervening in private interest. The CRTC controls advertising, but if you read the rules and regulations they have in place it becomes evident that with the exception if the scheduling regulations, the rules are largely open to interpretation.

Yes, parents can say no. But unless you are literally with your child 16 hours a day, you can’t shelter them from advertising. I had this conversation with someone the other day…he said his two year old started asking about McDonald’s and he had no clue where it came from.

It’s reductionist and condescending to simply state this is a matter of parental responsibility and turning of the television.

45 | Sarah

May 10th, 2013 at 12:24 pm

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Apologies for the errors above, I typed quickly!

46 | coffeewithjulie

May 10th, 2013 at 12:33 pm

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Me again. I’ve read through all the comments and it’s super clear you are passionate about this issue. I just can’t seem to get energized by it.

I don’t see McD’s as the big bad guy here. Sure, it’s not the best thing to eat McD’s every day of the week, but countless other products (which also market to children) fall into this category as well.

Sure, there is a sub-population of obese children in Canada that could use some help, but banning McD’s ads isn’t going to do it — they need parents with higher wages and nutritional education, wholesome food at home, and a chance to enjoy physical activity before, during and after the school day.

Overall, I think it’s embarrassing that as a nation we are worried about over-consumption when there are people (like those affected in your recent “live below the line” challenge) who don’t have enough to eat at all. These people are starving and we’re worried about parents who can’t say “no” to kids who beg for junk food?

I’ve written about this before. And many readers disagreed with me then too. :)

http://www.julieharrison.ca/living/canada%E2%80%99s-has-an-obesity-epidemic-on-its-hands/

http://www.julieharrison.ca/living/the-obesity-epidemic-maybe-im-just-embarrassed/

47 | Loukia

May 15th, 2013 at 11:22 am

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I just have a hard time understanding how certain companies are targeted as bad (McDonald’s, evil, evil!) and others aren’t mentioned, when they do the same things… like A&W, Wendy’s, etc.
And come on. Is my five year old going to absolutely make me go buy him a Happy Meal if he saw a commercial? NO. Just like if he sees a commercial for a toy, I’ll make note of it, but I won’t run to Toys R Us (another company that certainly targets children with their ads, no?) to buy it for him.
I am all for all companies doing whatever they want (if it is safe and legal) to advertise to those who have money. THE PARENTS.

48 | andrea tomkins

May 15th, 2013 at 11:46 am

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I guess we don’t see eye to eye on this Loukia. :)

Should companies really do what they want?

I personally think that many companies care more about the bottom line than they do about our children’s health. To use an example I urge you to read this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

There is a section about the invention of Lunchables that is really interesting.

Why McDonald’s? I didn’t pick the target of this initiative but I’m guessing it’s because they are the biggest and most recognizable brand. McD’s is one of the biggest purveyors of junk food to our kids, one of the biggest distributors of toys, and one of the companies – in the world – that spends the most money marketing to children.

Kids are fatter than ever. Are you at all worried about this? I am. As I mentioned in the post, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 kids born in the year 2000 are expected to get type-2 diabetes in their lifetime. This is not good news.

It’s great that you’re able to say no to your kids, but many parents are not. And the marketing is insidious.

I’m not sure how you can argue with the experts in regards to child development. I will defer to the American Academy of Pediatrics who have noted that marketing to children under 8 is “inherently deceptive” and “wholly exploitative.” I mentioned this previously but it bear repeating: Kids are not simply little adults; their brains are still developing and they cannot yet distinguish between marketing and reality. What’s more, the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates banning junk food marketing during children’s television programming. Have you considered WHY they’d like to see junk food marketing banned?

49 | angela ( angfromthedock )

May 15th, 2013 at 11:26 pm

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i am amazed by how some parents fool themselves into not seeing the bigger picture here. it is not just about an occasional jaunt to mcdonald’s where somehow tossing the toy makes it all better…it is about the health of our families, and on a grander scale our community/ies.
it is about how large companies are not looking out for anyone’s best interest other than their own and how they can generate a bigger ( better, younger ) audience of consumers. yes, the RMH is a fantastic organization but this should not take distract from the not so fantastic product that mcd’s offers.
mcd’s is the target here because it is the most insiduous ( perfect word whoever used it above first ) example of marketing to our kids. and yep, i hold the purse strings in the family but i also know that my first born, raised on PBS and organic baby food, could recognize the golden arches before his second birthday…incredible.

this is what needs to be repeated until people get it:

“Kids are fatter than ever. Are you at all worried about this? I am. As I mentioned in the post, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 kids born in the year 2000 are expected to get type-2 diabetes in their lifetime. This is not good news.”

not everyone is as well educated as you would hope in how to raise a healthy child. good, loving parents are challenged daily by the pressures of work, time, expectations…are these parents and these kids not worth speaking up for? i think they are. and this is where discussions like this can help and should help.

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  • Alison in Ottawa: Most years we need to go to the life touch retake day. They seem to have more time on retake day.
  • andrea tomkins: No way Lynn! That sounds terrible. It must be a fundraiser for the schools. If enough people complained maybe they'd ditch the new company?
  • Lynn: Aw, you're adorable! Our school changed photography studios last year - they ditched LifeTouch and went with someone (Green apple? Or something like t
  • Misty Pratt: I fork out the money every year too :) Can't resist how terrible some of them are!!
  • Carolyn: Andrea, I have an even better salad that I've been making for about 3 years now and 3 out of my 4 kids eat it which is a miracle itself! Cut the Bruss
  • andrea tomkins: She's getting a bath! It's a weekly thing with prescription shampoo. She doesn't love it, as you can probably tell. :)
  • Javamom: Piper in the tub because: a) she heard thunder and hid there during the storm, b) she is getting a bath or c) you planted her there for the picture ju

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times, Capital Parent Newspaper, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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