Confronted by a 9-year-old girl during a shareholder’s meeting, the CEO of McDonald’s insisted that the company does not sell “junk food” and defended advertising practices that target children with colorful characters.
“Something I don’t think is fair is when big companies try to trick kids into eating food that isn’t good for them by using toys and cartoon characters,” 9-year-old Hannah Robertson told McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson. “If parents haven’t taught their kids about healthy eating then the kids probably believe that junk food is good for them because it might taste good.”
“It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time,” the younger Robertson told Thompson, reading from a prepared statement. “I make cooking videos with my mom that show kids that eating healthy can be fun and yummy. We teach them that eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies makes kids healthier, smarter and happier because that is the truth.”
Thompson seemed to balk at Robertson’s question and scolded her. “First of all, we don’t sell junk food, Hannah,” he said. “My kids also eat McDonald’s. When they were about your size, to my son who is with us today, who was a little bit bigger, he was a football player, and also they cook with me at home. I love to cook. We cook lots of fruits and veggies at home.” He added that the company wants to sell more fruits and veggies, and pointed out their salad selection and the inclusion of apple slices in Happy Meals.
Robertson’s mother Kia, 36, is an activist with the group Corporate Accountability International, and an avid food blogger who involves her daughter in a series of YouTube videos about healthy eating. She helped coach her daughter through the confrontation.
But it’s not just sheer ideological persistence behind the confrontation. McDonalds faced a lawsuit in 2010 over marketing processed foods loaded with salt and fat to children through the use of toys and cartoon characters, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) calls deceptive, and a main driver of the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S.
“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner said in a press release. “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.”
The suit, which sought to ban Happy Meal toys in California and sought no additional damages, was thrown out in 2012.
This video is from ABC News, aired Saturday, May 25, 2013.