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McDonald's Wrong to Use Narnia Film to Sell Unhealthy Food

By Dulcie Ward, R.D.

This opinion piece was published on Dec. 21, 2005, in the Newark Star-Ledger.

It’s one of the world’s most beloved children’s fantasy stories, and now it has come to the big screen. But the most remarkable thing about “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” is not the film’s special effects or talented young actors.

What’s truly astonishing is that a book written by C.S. Lewis, who famously feared what Hollywood and Madison Avenue might do to his imaginative and deeply principled “Narnia” tales, has been transformed by the marketing meat grinder into just another tool to sell unhealthy food to kids.

Young Narnia fans are weathering a blizzard of promotional material from various food companies, but McDonald’s seems to be leading the way. The giant burger chain is including Narnia figurines and picture books with its “Mighty Kids Meal,” which features such high-fat, high-cholesterol food items as a Double Cheeseburger or a half-dozen Chicken McNuggets.

As a dietitian, I am especially appalled that McDonald’s launched this irresponsible marketing blitz just days after the Institute of Medicine (IOM), one of the nation’s leading scientific organizations, released a landmark report showing that food companies are using television ads and other promotional tools to entice kids into eating huge amounts of unhealthy food.

Companies spent an estimated $10 billion in 2004 marketing food and beverages to children, according to the Institute. The report found that these kid-centered advertisements play a key role in our nation’s epidemic of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.

These days, burger chains and other food companies often claim they’re selling healthier fare. But the report, which drew on 120 scientific studies to support its findings, concluded otherwise, finding that most food and beverage products promoted to children are high in fat, sugar, and salt.

That certainly describes the Mighty Kids Meal. For example, if a kid buys a Mighty Kids Meal consisting of a Double Cheeseburger, small French fries, and a jug of low-fat chocolate milk, he or she will consume a whopping 850 calories, 36 grams of fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,430 milligrams of sodium.

Neither McDonald’s nor Disney is strong-arming anyone up to the counter, of course. And it’s true that parents must do their part to steer kids away from high-fat foods.

But as the IOM points out, marketing has a powerful hold on young people. The report’s authors, who include experts in psychology, nutrition, and marketing, found strong scientific evidence that television advertising influences what children ages 2 to 11 consume. And the report also notes strong evidence that exposure to television advertising is associated with body fatness among children and teens.

Bad diets hit kids hard. Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past 40 years. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes among young people has more than doubled in the past decade.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As the IOM report points out, the food industry and entertainment companies should be using their marketing muscle to support more healthful diets for children and youth.

Entertainment and advertising aimed at kids could promote fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy, cholesterol-free foods. A wide range of scientific studies suggest that moving to a low-fat, plant-based diet would dramatically improve our children’s health, reducing their risk of obesity and diabetes and, as they reach adulthood, the danger of heart disease.

But for that to happen, companies like McDonald’s must embrace corporate responsibility. Selling kids on fruits and veggies won’t always be easy. But it’s a far better use of marketing skills than employing a timeless children’s story to hawk greasy cheeseburgers and fried chicken.

Dulcie Ward, R.D., is staff nutritionist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


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