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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Olympics: McDonalds and First Fry

Television advertisements during the recent Olympics were high-priced, but one by McDonald’s reached a new low. It pictured a baby next to a parent with the message “There will be a first step, a first word and, of course, a first french fry.” The lethal impact – start clogging the tiny arteries at the earliest possible age — the baby appeared to be one year old!

Then there is the rapid increase in obesity — one in four children, nearly one in two adults. Just retired U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher stated that obesity is now approaching tobacco as a leading cause of preventable fatalities in the U.S.

Much of McDonald’s $3 billion a year television ad budget is directed toward children and its objective is to separate the children from their parents so as to get the children, as many parents know, to nag the parents into going to McDonald’s. This fast fat company does not force children to eat its junk food; it is far more effective to seduce them, with toys, Ronald McDonald fun and tasty feelings, into clamoring for this bad and deadly diet that will plague them later in life.

A recent release from the Center for Science in the public interest ( says “A typical [McDonald’s] Value Meal (Big Mac, medium fries, medium Coke) delivers about 1,200 calories and three-quarters of a day’s quota of saturated fat. That is exactly the type of diet that the federal government’s ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ and ‘The Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health’ have recommended against.”

Professor of Public health at Yale University, Kelly Brownell, told the Center’s popular Nutrition Action newsletter that diet-related diseases are taking tens of thousands of American lives yearly. “I have asked myself,”she said, “whether Joe Camel is different than Ronald McDonald. One would claim that they both encourage children to adopt habits that could be bad for their health.”

McDonald’s has weightier things on its mind than children’s health, as it expands toward its goal of having a McDonald’s less than ten minutes away from every American. It has been looking at its charts and the consumption of french fries, after artery-bursting annual growth, has begun to decline. Not much, perhaps one percent in the year ending this June 30th, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but enough to alarm the burger bosses. One can imagine the bells ringing — quick go down the age scale, start ’em on the grease before they are toddlers. Maintain that profit curve!

The New York Times attributes this decline in part to “health-conscious Americans’ fear of fat, quoting Chandra Brooks, an office worker, saying “I don’t even eat McDonald’s anymore. I’m trying to get away from fatty food.”

Gee Whizzerkers!! Information and education can work! But how can the truth about fatty diets and disease get to millions of youngsters and larger numbers of adults?

Well, there is the Center for Science in the Public Interest with their factual, readable posters, pamphlets, and newsletters reaching nearly a million people. But isn’t there something wrong when the people own the public airwaves, the television stations control what goes on them around the clock as tenants, who pay the FCC no rent for their lucrative license, and McDonald’s gets its harmful products publicized without any rebuttal by nutritionists and other public health scientists. There isn’t even a Phil Donahue Show anymore where the fat content in hot dogs and burgers can be openly discussed.

Eric Scholosser, author of the best-selling paperback, Fast Food Nation, has been on an extensive book tour and receiving some good mediagetting his message out. He points to the reality that humans develop their tastes at an early age and have a difficult time changing course for certain foods heavy in salt, fat and sugar. Knowing this biology and knowing how to turn the tongue against the brain at an early age, McDonald’s and its fast food compadres zero in with relentless repetition, sensuality and psychology.

Anyone with ideas about how to counteract this growing recklessness of the fast food industry ought to communicate them to the Center pronto. If you think that parents away at work from their young ones can simply tell their offsprings to “just say NO,” try reading Pavlov’s experiments about conditioned responses.

By all means, just say NO, grab your carrots, apples and chick peas; but when in most cases that doesn’t work, we have to look for other approaches.