Plastered on the PlayPlace window of my local McDonald’s is a giant Coca-Cola decal. McDonald’s uses these play areas to attract families with children to their restaurants while also using them as a way to market soda. This highlights their duplicitous approach to public health efforts.
The fast food chain was lauded in the fall of 2013 for agreeing to phase out listing soda on the kids’ menu, but this picture shows where their true loyalties lie.
Earlier this month, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation pledged to commit another $500 million to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. One of their key priorities is to “eliminate the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among 0-5 year olds.” McDonald’s putting Coca-Cola decals on their PlayPlace windows runs completely counter to this goal and shows how little McDonald’s values our kids’ health.
This kind of aggressive marketing to children is becoming a brand liability and as reporter Ben Austen noted:
“Parents who had happily inhaled Big Macs as kids now consider eating at McDonald’s a sort of vice, like smoking.”
Telling kids that soda is happiness and fast food is lovin’ is bad for business, as recent sales for Coca-Cola and McDonald’s would indicate. Coca-Cola’s earnings fell 55 percent last quarter and McDonald’s earnings plunged 21 percent. They also face increasing pressure from health advocates and a recent series published in The Lancet medical journal warned:
“Governments are allowing a proliferation of sophisticated marketing of unhealthy foods to children to continue in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic. Governments need to regulate to prevent this unethical exploitation of children’s vulnerabilities.”
Examining the food industry’s role in global obesity, series co-author Dr. Tim Lobstein went so far as to say, “Fat children are an investment in future sales.”
When the junk food industry pushed back against Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recent recommendations, public health researcher Daniel Taber decided to flip the mirror and examine the science of self-regulation. He found that “industry groups have a hypocritical double standard when it comes to basing policy on evidence, and this double standard makes me skeptical when they ask for a seat at the table in policy discussions.”
The key to successful partnerships is sharing common goals. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s share the common goal of maximizing future sales by building brand loyalty in today’s kids. They do not share the common goal of health organizations to prevent disease and promote health. The Coca-Cola decal on the McDonald’s PlayPlace is a stark reminder of this fact.
This piece was originally published in Beyond Chron.