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Junk food wrap-up

June 24, 2010

My four-year-old daughter would kill this child and eat his heart for a single one of those Hello Kitties

Well, it’s been a busy few days for me, and the junk food stories are piling up like pork chops on I-55 (or cars before the Naked Jesus, if you prefer), so I thought what the hay, I’ll lump them in together.

For starters, that smug little bilingual overenunciator Dora the Explorer is intent not just on teaching your kids the most insipid songs this side of Raffi, but also on making them fat:

Popular cartoon characters are influencing the taste preferences of very young children, and not in a positive way, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that the branding of American food product packaging with characters such as Dora the Explorer drives preschoolers to choose higher-calorie, less healthful foods over more nutritious options.

“The bottom line is that when kids are presented with a choice of graham crackers, fruit snacks or carrots, and the only difference is that one package has a licensed character on it, they actually think that the food with the character tastes better,” said study author Christina Roberto, a doctoral student working at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

It’s tempting to demonize networks like the loathsome and Viacom-owned Nickelodeon for this sort of thing, but of course children’s show characters turn up everywhere hawking all manner of stomach-turning and obesity-inducing soylents (including, but not limited to, characters from some of our most cherished shows). It turns out the people behind children’s programming care more about money than your kids–surprise!

Which is a good thing to keep in mind when considering the bad week for McDonalds, which was the subject of a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that showed, shockingly, that the mumbling degenerates McDonald’s employs don’t give a shit whether your kid gets the fries or the apple slices:

McDonald’s restaurant staffs automatically serve french fries with kids’ Happy Meals and don’t mention the healthier choice of apple slices to their customers, a new study shows.

–snip–

•93% of the time, employees served french fries as the side without asking if customers would prefer Apple Dippers.

•84% of the time, the sales clerks offered a beverage choice. Soda was usually the first option mentioned.

•More than 75% of the stores had toy displays for the Happy Meals

That last bit rankled CSPI to enough that they also sent Ronald a letter threatening lawsuit if they didn’t quit it with the toys in the Happy Meals.

I’m about the last person who would ever defend McDonald’s, but I feel safe in saying that no McDonald’s executive sits up nights plotting ways to make your kids fat. What they do sit up thinking about is ways of making themselves rich, and toys happen to sell Happy Meals (which is no surprise; I have to say we’ve gotten some serious mileage out of some of the toys we’ve gotten in Happy Meals–Speed Racer car? More than a year and counting on that one). Interestingly, no one in this whole debate ever mentions the option of just, you know, not buying the Happy Meal. As the parent, you’re sort of in charge of that decision.

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