A consumer watchdog group is threatening to sue McDonald’s fast-food chain, claiming the toys included in Happy Meal deceptively lure children into consuming the food and contribute to childhood obesity.
According to CNN, the Center for Science in the Public Interest announced the potential suit in a letter to McDonald’s and said the fast food company’s toy related promotions violate consumer protection laws in four states and the District of Columbia. The Washington-based consumer advocacy group gave McDonald’s 30 days to comply with a series of requests, including removal of the toys from Happy Meals, before they file the suit.
“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” the center’s litigation director, Stephen Gardner, said in a statement. “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity—all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”
But McDonald Vice President of Communications William Whitman said the company has not violated any laws and the restaurant offers more variety than ever in their Happy Meals.
“We are proud of our Happy Meal, which gives our customers wholesome food and toys of the highest quality and safety,” Whitman said in a statement, according to CBS News. “Getting a toy is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald’s.”
Still, the advocacy group argued that while the restaurant may offer healthier food options, a study they conducted found that when parents and children order Happy Meals, they are given french fries 93 percent of the time. In addition, the group claims that of the 24 possible Happy Meal combinations that McDonald’s describes on its Web site, all are more than 430 calories, one-third of the daily 1,300-calorie intake recommended for children ages 4 to 8.
“But regardless of the nutritional quality of what’s being sold, the practice of tempting kids with toys is inherently deceptive,” Michael F. Jacobson, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “I’m sure that industry’s defenders will blame parents for not saying ‘no’ to their children. Parents do bear much of the responsibility, but multi-billion dollar corporations make parents’ job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising.”
According to CBS News, the group is hoping its first suit against the restaurant chain will have a similar outcome to their 2006 lawsuit against Kellogg, in which the company agreed to a settlement increasing the nutritional value of the cereals and snacks they market to children.
McDonald’s first came under fire for attributing to obesity and poor health in 2002, when lawyer Samuel Hirsch alleged the restaurant violated New York state’s consumer fraud statutes by deliberately misleading customers into believing their menu items were healthy, according to BBCnews.com.
The case was centered on a group of children who claimed the restaurant contributed to their obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. The case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was thrown out in 2003 by Judge Robert Sweet who ruled the suit failed to “allege sufficiently” that McDonald’s food is addictive.