A consumer advocacy group, Corporate Accountability International, wants Ronald McDonald to retire. According to a CNN report, Corporate Accountability International plans to host a retirement party for Ronald McDonald as it releases a report Wednesday that calls for McDonald’s to stop using the clown. “For nearly 50 years, Ronald McDonald has hooked kids on unhealthy foods spurring a deadly epidemic of diet-related diseases,” said Deborah Lapidus, the senior organizer at Corporate Accountability International. “Ultimately the report makes the case that it’s time that McDonald’s stop directing fast food to kids. Really, Ronald deserves a break and so do we.”
Let me say straight-out: I do not like McDonald’s. I don’t eat McDonald’s food and neither do my children. I don’t like Ronald either. As a child, I never found him appealing, and as a parent I find him down right creepy.
Corporate Accountability International’s finger-pointing at a clown doesn’t help the obesity crisis any more than New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed soda tax helps the obesity epidemic. We could argue that there needs to be government regulation on all advertising directed towards children, especially when it comes to food products (cereals, fast food, candy, etc). I would support this, and I think that it would be a worthy endeavor. But targeting Ronald is not the path to better health for all. McDonald’s isn’t going anywhere – I know it, you know it, they know it. Rather than spending time and money trying to eliminate poor Ronald, why not use him to raise awareness about a healthy diet? If he’s as influential as Corporate Accountability International claims, let’s tweak him, reform him, and help him be a better clown. How about Ronald McDonald chomping on a carrot, or a commercial where Ronald goes to the farmer’s market? Or Ronald eats an apple instead of an apple pie.
What Ronald McDonald needs is a makeover – less rubber chicken, more fresh leafy green salad.
And speaking of influential, the Corporate Accountability’s website says, “The average child sees about 20,000 fast food commercials every year. With marketing that overwhelming, it’s hard for even the most health-conscious parent to maintain influence over their child’s food preferences.”
Who are these health-conscious parents that allow their children to spend enough hours in front of the TV to see 20,000 fast food commercials? You can’t complain about the commercials your child sees if you let him watch TV for hours each day, and you can’t complain about McDonald’s if you take him there to eat. A six-year-old child does not end up in McDonald’s with a tray full of food by himself. Someone takes him there, and someone pays for that food.
There are enormous problems with the American diet. We are surrounded by terrible food and skillful marketing. And our diet does lead to illnesses like type 2 diabetes. As responsible adults and parents, however, we need to teach our children not to eat this food. My youngest son, Adam, is almost a year old. His favorite activity is putting things into his mouth. He crawls around our apartment – which houses his two older brothers, two cats, and a giant dog – and examines everything, from toys, to cat hair, to shoelaces. I follow behind Adam on his excursions, let him touch and explore, and as his little hand grasps something and brings it towards his face, I say, “not in your mouth.” I use a stern voice, and he listens. Those are the four words a parent needs. We can’t blame Ronald McDonald for what goes into our children’s mouths. We can only blame ourselves.