HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lawsuit Threatened Over McDonald's Use of Toys to Advertise Happy Meals

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sent a demand letter to McDonald’s threatening to sue if the company didn’t stop using toys to market Happy Meals to young children. The Washington-based group said using toy-related promotions violated state consumer protection laws in Massachusetts, Texas, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and California.

By advertising that Happy Meals include toys, McDonald’s unfairly and deceptively markets directly to children.… Happy Meals lead children to develop a lifelong habit of eating meals that are too high in calories, saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium, and devoid of whole grains.

McDonald’s Web site lists 24 Happy Meal combinations. Considering that a reasonable lunch for a young child would contain no more than 430 calories (one third of the 1,300 calories that is the recommended daily intake for children 4 to 8 years old), not a single Happy Meal meets that target. The average of all 24 meals is 26 percent higher in calories than a reasonable lunch. In fact, one meal (cheeseburger, French fries, and chocolate milk) hits 700 calories — a whopping 63 percent higher (and more than half the calories for the entire day).

Consider the Happy Meal composed of a cheeseburger, French fries, and Sprite. That meal has 640 calories (half a day’s worth for young children), 7 grams of saturated fat (half the 14-gram recommended limit), 940 milligrams of sodium (about three-fourths of the 1,200-milligram limit), and 35 grams of sugar (about two days’ worth). Moreover, the bun is made with white, not whole wheat, flour. Although the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends diets centered on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, McDonald’s Happy Meals consist largely of white flour, fried meat, fried potatoes, salt, and refined sugars.

In a July 6 letter to the Executive Director of CSPI, McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner defended McDonald's marketing practices by saying that “Happy Meals are a fun treat, with right-sized, quality food choices.”  Mr. Skinner went on to argue that

it seems that you purposefully skewed your evaluation of our Happy Meals by putting them in the context of a highly conservative 1,300 calorie per day requirement. …I’m sure you know this category generally applies to the youngest and most sedentary children.

July 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Children are Seeing More Television Advertisements for Fast Foods and Racial Gaps in Exposures Increase

According to a recent study assessing food advertising trends, children now see more television advertisements for fast food and fewer television advertisements for sweets and beverages than they did in 2003. In addition, the study concludes that racial gaps in exposure to all food advertising have increased.

Lisa M. Powell, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago studied television ratings data from Nielsen Media Research for the calendar years 2003, 2005 and 2007. The study, Trends in Exposure to Television Food Advertisements Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, will appear in the September print issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.  

The study is important in light of the findings by an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that there is strong evidence that television advertising influences the short-term eating habits of children age 2 to 11, and moderate evidence that advertising influences their usual dietary intake, according to background information in the article. ScienceDaily summarizes the article as follows:

In 2006, 10 major U.S. food companies pledged to devote at least half of their child-targeted advertising to healthier products or encouraging good nutrition and healthy lifestyles, an effort called the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. By 2009, 16 companies had signed on. "Given that each company defined their own better-for-you products and also had different definitions of what constituted children's programming, key questions remain," the authors write.To assess trends in food advertising before and after the initiative, Lisa M. Powell, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago studied television ratings data from Nielsen Media Research for the calendar years 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Between 2003 and 2007, daily average exposure to televised food ads decreased by 13.7 percent among children age 2 to 5 and 3.7 percent among children age 6 to 11, but increased by 3.7 percent among teens age 12 to 17. Ads for sweets became less frequent, with a 41 percent decrease in exposure for 2- to 5-year-olds, 29.3 percent for 6- to 11-year-olds and 12.1 percent for 12- to 17-year-olds. Beverage ads also decreased in frequency, by about 27 percent to 30 percent across age groups, with substantial decreases in exposure to ads for previously heavily advertised sugar-sweetened beverages.

However, exposure to fast-food ads increased between 2003 and 2007, with a 4.7 percent increase in viewings among children age 2 to 5, 12.2 percent among children 6 to 11 and 20.4 percent among teens age 12 to 17. The high prevalence of these ads suggests the importance of branding, the authors note. "Indeed, children have been found to recognize brand logos at very young ages and a recent study found that preschoolers exhibited significantly higher preferences for food and beverage items in branded vs. plain packaging," they write.

The racial gap in advertising also increased in this time period. By 2007, African American children saw 1.4 to 1.6 times as many food ads per day than white children, depending on their age. "In particular, African American children and teens had more than double the rate of increase in exposure to fast food ads compared with their white counterparts," the authors write.

July 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 5, 2010

The New EU Mandatory Organic Logo

As of July 1, new regulations came into effect that require the use of the European organic logo on pre-packaged organic food and beverage products. The European Commission states that the new logo is designed to provide a consumer with “complete confidence” that the goods they purchase are produced in line with EU organic farming regulations. The logo is made up of 12 stars in the shape of a leaf.


According to

[w]here used, the logo must be accompanied by an indication of the place where the agricultural raw materials were farmed, stating that raw materials originate from 'EU Agriculture', 'non-EU Agriculture' or 'EU/non-EU Agriculture'. If all raw materials have been farmed in only one country, the name of this specific country, in or outside the EU, can be indicated instead.

National, region, or private labels will be allowed to appear on packaging alongside the common EU logo. Under the EU’s new regulations, products can only be labelled as organic if:

·         At least 95 per cent of the product's ingredients of agricultural origin have been organically produced;

·         The product complies with the rules of the official inspection scheme;

·         The product has come directly from the producer or preparer in a sealed package;

·         The product bears the name of the producer, the preparer or vendor and the name or code of the inspection body

·         The product does not contain GMOs


The new EU rules also set out conditions for organic aquaculture production of fish, shellfish and seaweed. These specify that biodiversity should be respected, and do not allow the use of induced spawning by artificial hormones.

July 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)