This week an open letter to McDonald's signed by 550 health professionals appears in full-page ads in newspapers across the country. Their message? Real simple: "Stop making the next generation sick--retire Ronald and the rest of your junk food marketing to kids," said signer Dr. Steven K. Rothschild, Associate Professor of Preventative Medicine at Rush Medical College.
The letter's signers also include Dr. William C. Roberts, Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Cardiology, Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Deborah Burnet, Chief of General Medicine and a pediatrician at University of Chicago, as well as the Hollywood immortalized doctor, Patch Adams.
Their letter coincides with a McDonald's shareholder meeting in Chicago where 14 institutional investors will introduce the first resolution ever to call on a major corporation to deal with its public health impacts as well as shareholder liabilities for these impact could carry.
In a campaign coordinated by Boston-based Corporate Accountability International, the doctors describe the epidemic that alarms them: A full third of American kids are obese. And thanks to diets high in McDonald's-style fast-food it's estimated that one in three American newborns will develop Type II Diabetes in their lifetime.
Last year Corporate Accountability International called on McDonald's to retire its icon Ronald McDonald and halt junk food marketing to kids, including "happy meals." It didn't happen. Instead, this year the company pursued a "nutriwashing" strategy: introducing oatmeal with nutritional value no better than Snickers, and strawberry lemonade containing more sugar than Coca-Cola.
In recent years, McDonald's has apparently extended, not cut back, its reach into children's minds and mouths. A study found that in 2009, small children were exposed to up to 25 percent more McDonald's ads than in 2007.
In 2006 fast food companies spent an estimated $2.3 billion marketing specifically to children, with McDonald's alone spending $400 million.
The White House and the Federal Trade Commission are both recommending an end to junk food advertising to children, with the FTC preparing new voluntary guidelines for the nutritional quality of food that's marketed to children.
But there's no reason to believe a self-regulating approach can work. After all, McDonald's committed to reducing junk food marketing to kids five years ago. We see where that landed us.
"We're in the middle of a public health crisis that is exacting a crippling human toll," says Dr. Donald W. Zeigler, director of Prevention and Healthy Lifestyles at the American Medical Association. He goes on to fault "McDonald's empty promises."
Unlike doctors, McDonald's hasn't had to swear the Hippocratic Oath, but our kids' health depends on our holding it to account. You can help at: http://www.lettertomcdonalds.org
Isn't it time we start listening to doctors and stop listening to clowns?