Let's blame Ronald -- again

Monday, August 20, 2007

It never ceases to amaze us that whenever a cause celeb gets started, like childhood obesity, we immediately need to find someone, anyone to blame rather than blaming the person in the mirror who is ultimately responsible.

A recent study by Stanford university of 63 low-income children ages three to five from Head Start centers in San Mateo County, Calif. has added fuel to the debate about marketing to children.

The study included three McDonald's menu items -- hamburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries -- and store-bought milk or juice and carrots. Children got two identical samples of each food on a tray, one in McDonald's wrappers or cups and the other in plain, unmarked packaging. The children were asked if they tasted the same or if one was better. (Some children didn't taste all the foods.)

McDonald's-labeled samples were the clear favorites. French fries were the biggest winner; almost 77 percent said the labeled fries tasted best while only 13 percent preferred the others.

Fifty-four percent preferred McDonald's-wrapped carrots versus 23 percent who liked the plain-wrapped sample.

The only results not statistically clear-cut involved the hamburgers, with 29 children choosing McDonald's-wrapped burgers and 22 choosing the unmarked ones.

Opponents of fast food advertising claim that McDonald's has brainwashed these children and their perception of the brand as good will somehow turn them all into obese children and adults.

But here are the cold, hard facts: just two of the 63 children studied said they'd never eaten at McDonald's, and about one-third ate there at least weekly. Any parent who is in a hurry and wants their child to eat a hot meal will, at one time or another, take them to McDonald's. The franchise is among the most prolific in the world.

What happens after eating at McDonald's is just as important as the meal. If the children are placed in front of the television to be quiet instead of getting outside and playing, they will gain weight.

Parents bear responsibility here, but it is far too easy to blame the fast food giant. Almost as easy as picking up a happy meal at the drive-through.