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Volume 70, Issue 85, Friday, February 4, 2005

Opinion

McLawsuits overlook real issues

Dante Eglin
Opinion Columnist

A federal appeals court has revived part of a class-action obesity suit against McDonald's Corp. that accuses the fast food giant of using deceptive advertisement tactics to lure customers into eating unhealthy, fattening foods.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a trial judge incorrectly threw out certain portions of the September 2003 lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet dismissed the case in 2003 on grounds that it failed to directly link the health problems of the two New York children represented to McDonald's products. 

The lawsuit claims thousands of children are victims of health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other problems due to McDonald's deceptive advertising techniques. Sweet had dismissed the case twice before on claims that the plaintiffs had failed to follow his instructions to prove their claim through other questions such as the children's exercise habits, family history, etc.

The appeals judges, however, said New York law requires a plaintiff to show only that advertising tactics were misleading and that the plaintiff suffered as a result. 

Does McDonald's actually seek to intentionally mislead its customer base? Jared from the Subway advertisements will be the first to tell you that the McDonald's portrayed in its health-conscious commercials is not the same McDonald's that your intestines are introduced to. The company's hip new "I'm Lovin' It" campaign aims to equate the world's largest fast food retailer with being the cool hangout spot for America's youth. With the low-carb diet crazes lately, McDonald's sought to avoid losing customers by rolling out "health-conscious" menu items such as grilled chicken salads.

"Clearly, McDonald's is committed to offering customers menu choice and physical activity opportunities," Dr. Cathy Kapica, Global Director of Nutrition for McDonald's, said in a statement on the company's Web site. "But as a registered dietitian, I know it's just as important to give people the right educational tools to help them achieve a balanced, active lifestyle. That's where our nutrition information and educational programs come in. I work with nutritionists in many countries to develop tools customized to local cultures that help customers tailor their McDonald's experience to their unique needs."

If a customer were to order McDonalds' flagship value meal -- the combination of a Big Mac, medium fries and medium Coca-Cola -- it would amount to a modest 1300 total calories, amassing 85 percent of one's daily dietary value for total fat, 26 percent of cholesterol, 56 percent of sodium and 56 percent of carbohydrates, according to the nutritional values provided on the company's Web site.

The usual alternative for the health-conscious customer, a Premium Salad, fares better than the standard burger and fries but comes nowhere near the health spin observed in a McDonald's advertisement. A quick lunch break, with a Bacon Ranch Salad with Crispy Chicken topped with Newman's Own Ranch Dressing and a medium iced tea, takes up 48 percent of the daily total fat value, 28 percent of cholesterol, 65 percent of sodium and 11 percent of carbohydrates.

Kapica's statement underlines the obvious hypocrisy the company exhibits, while at the same time revealing the more important issue at hand in the lawsuit. McDonald's executives almost assuredly can quote at ease their programs and initiatives for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as their Go Active! American Challenge and the Get Moving with Ronald McDonald show. 

But the most obvious issue is blatant, and while the plaintiffs in the lawsuit choose to dodge it, McDonald's has acknowledged it, and the general public should also. It is simply impractical and foolish to blame a restaurant, food chain or any other venue for claims of obesity, weight gain or poor health. False advertising and misleading ads are two completely different issues. While it is obvious that McDonald's would like its customer base to believe that its food products are healthy and wholesome, they do not actively claim their products to be a gift from the health gods. 

What the general public needs to realize is McDonald's, or any other fast food chain, is not responsible for an individual's health problems. No one is forced into the drive-thru at gunpoint. The time and energy exerted to drive to a fast food chain, consume its products and proceed to complain about the nutritional quality of that food is the same amount of time that could have been utilized jogging to the local market, purchasing a fruit platter and exercising for 30 minutes. 

Practicing healthy eating habits, participating in regular physical activity and avoiding the sedentary lifestyle many Americans have grown accustomed to are not the responsibility of McDonald's nor its counterparts. The same dedication used in the attempt to receive a handout at the expense of a major company should be put into educating our population on its obesity problem. 

Eglin, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached via dccampus@mail.uh.edu

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