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Having taken on everything from nutrition labeling to restaurant calorie postings, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is now stepping into the ring to do battle with perhaps its most fearsome opponent to date: children who harass their parents to buy them Happy Meals.
Specifically, the CSPI is calling for McDonald’s to remove toys from its Happy Meals, claiming that the fast-food corporation is using Shrek figurines to entice children to eat lots of nutritionally dubious food. On Tuesday, the group served McDonald’s with a notice of its intent to sue if the toys aren’t removed.
In a press release on its website, CSPI’s litigation director compares McDonald’s to “the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children” and claims that its 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.”
Aside from righteous indignation, CSPI is also armed with various state consumer protection laws that make deceptive and unfair marketing illegal. It’s also armed with troubling statistics: Each year, fast-food companies spend more than $350 million on toy giveaways. And while McDonald’s pledged in 2007 to not advertise to children meals containing more than 600 calories, all of its 24 Happy Meal combinations exceed 430 calories. A Happy Meal cheeseburger, french fries, and Sprite, for example, have 640 calories, as well as two days’ worth of sugar and 940 milligrams of sodium.
Lawsuit aside, some people are already taking matters into their own hands: In April, supervisors in Santa Clara County, California, banned fast-food companies from selling toys in unincorporated parts of the county.
Others, of course, are telling parents to just take control and simply tell their kids “no,” a word that parents in turn claim has no meaning when applied to a small child in the throes of a tantrum. For his part, Shrek seems to have no opinion on the matter, but keeps grinning his eerie plastic grin.