This month, McDonald's and Burger King recalled a combined total of 634,000 cheap, Chinesemade "Scotter Bug" and "Rattling, Paddling Riverboat" plastic toys because of safety defects. Yet, the inherent irony appears lost on the corporate leaders who announced those warranted precautions.
The toys involved are essentially ploys to get children haranguing their parents into making fast food burgers and fries central to their growing-up diets. As Eric Schlosser noted in his new book Fast Food Nation, toy promotions can double or triple sales of such meals. We physicians see the echo of this unfortunate phenomenon as we detect early signs of artery blockage even in 3-year-olds and observe rampaging rates of childhood obesity. Little wonder, when each "Happy Meal" containing a burger, fries and cookies packs 6 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat and 30 milligrams of cholesterol, and derives 33 percent of calories from fat.
Relentlessly, fast-food firms target America's children. McDonald's sells Ronald McDonald "wacky adventure" videos. Burger King has peddled Teletubbie-shaped chicken nuggets. They operate on-site of many schools, they aggressively seek food-service contracts actually within some schools. And they lure teens into "joining the crew" at low-paying, health-damaging, exploitative jobs that displace time much better spent on studying, reading, exercising, and even sleeping.
No one wants to belittle concern about dangerous toys. However, by far the biggest hazards posed to children by the likes of Ronald McDonald is not the junky toy premiums handed out, but the fare intended to go down little ones' throats.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.