CASE 27 McDonald’s and Obesity
Governments and inﬂuential health advocates around the world,
spooked that their nations’ kids will become as fat as American
kids, are cracking down on the marketers they blame for the explosion in childhood obesity. Across the globe, efforts are under way
to slow the march of obesity.
In the United States, roughly 30 percent of American children
are overweight or obese. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 64.5 percent of
Americans tip the scales as overweight or obese, the highest percentage of fat people of any country in the world. However, adults
and kids in other countries are catching ...view middle of the document...
But Japanese health ofﬁcials report that a BMI of 25
or more is already causing high rates of diabetes. About 290 million children in China are thought to be overweight, and researchers expect that number to double in the next 10 years. The World
Health Organization has warned of an escalating global epidemic
of overweight and obesity.
GLOBAL REACTIONS TO OBESITY
One of the perplexing questions is why there has been a relatively
sudden increase of obesity worldwide. Some opine that fast-food
portion sizes are partly to blame; the average size order of French
fries has nearly tripled since 1955. Some people say advertising is to blame, particularly ads aimed at children, such as those
“Obesity,” World Heart Federation, May 2007, http://www.world-heart-federation.org.
that use celebrities to market high-calorie foods. According to
USA Today, one study found that the average American child sees
10,000 food ads a year, mostly for high-fat or sugary foods and
Traditionally, in developing countries, the poorest people
have been the thinnest, a consequence of hard physical labor
and the consumption of small amounts of traditional foods.
But when these people in poor countries migrate to cities, obesity rates rise fastest among those in the lowest socioeconomic
Even as food companies’ battle U.S. lawsuits and legislators
who blame them for inducing childhood obesity, they’re being attacked on another front—Europe—which is threatening, among
other things, to ban advertising icons such Tony the Tiger and
Ronald McDonald. “I would like to see the industry not advertising directly to children,” said one European health commissioner.
“If this doesn’t produce satisfactory results, we will proceed to
legislation.” The European Health Commission has called for the
food industry to set its own regulations to curb so-called junk-food
advertising aimed at the European Union’s 450 million citizens—
or face bans similar to the tobacco industry.
The ominous comparison to cigarettes is increasingly being
made in the United States as well. Commenting on a McDonald’s
plan to send Ronald McDonald to schools to preach about nutrition, an aide to a U.S. senator said, “No matter what Ronald is
doing, they are still using this cartoon character to sell fatty hamburgers to kids. Once upon a time, tobacco companies had Joe
Camel and they didn’t get it either.”
Also under ﬁre is TV advertising of kids’ foods, as calls for
curbs or bans rise around the world. “If the rise in [the] child obesity trend continues, within ﬁve years we’ll be in the same situation
as America is today,” said a senior child nutritionist at the University of Copenhagen who sits on the board of Denmark’s National
Board of Nutritional Science. “Banning TV ads that are targeting
kids is an important strategy to adopt.” But there is an argument
that those measures won’t help. “In Sweden, Norway and Quebec,