PHAI Online - The Public Health Advocacy Institute

 

 

 

Posts Tagged ‘McDonald’s’

PHAI’s Gottlieb and Wilking Co-author study in JAMA Pediatrics Showing that Fast Food Giants Confuse and Deceive Kids

Monday, March 31st, 2014

 

Boston –

After much criticism and prodding, Fast food giants McDonald’s and Burger King agreed to depict healthier food options in advertising directed at children.  Researchers at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, along with the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law, found that attempts to honor these pledges by depicting healthier kids’ meals frequently go unnoticed by children ages 3 to 7 years-old.  In research published on March 31, 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics, these researchers found that one-half to one-third of children did not identify milk when shown McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising images depicting that product. Sliced apples in Burger King’s ads were identified as apples by only 10 percent of young viewers; instead most believed that the ads were depicting  french fries. 

Children in the study were confused by the images of food.  One typical participant said, “And I see some…are those apples slices?” 

The researcher replied, “I can’t tell you…you just have to say what you think they are.”

“I think they’re french fries,” the child responded.


Video of this and other responses from children participating in the study

“Burger King’s depiction of apple slices as ‘Fresh Apple Fries’ was misleading to children in the target age range,” said principal investigator James Sargent, MD, co-director Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “The advertisement would be deceptive by industry standards, yet their self-regulation bodies took no action to address the misleading depiction.”

Mark Gottlieb, Executive Director of PHAI and an author of the study, observed that, “when young children believe they will be getting french fries with their meals because of deceptive or confusing advertising imagery, they may insist that the adult bringing them orders french fries instead of apple slices. Likewise, if advertising leads children to expect a sugary drink rather than milk, they may well end up getting the sugary drink. This has the effect of undermining the self-regulatory pledges that the companies made.”

Study author and PHAI Senior Staff Attorney Cara Wilking said she found it, “troubling that fast food giants would publicly make a self-regulatory pledge, fail to live up to the pledge, and receive no sanction from the relevant self-regulatory body. Such failures suggests that self-regulation is often more about public relations than about fulfilling the role of actual governmental regulation.”

Sargent and his colleagues studied fast food television ads aimed at children from July 2010 through June 2011. In this study researchers extracted “freeze frames” of Kids Meals shown in TV ads that appeared on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and other children’s cable networks. Of the four healthy food depictions studied, only McDonald’s presentation of apple slices was recognized as an apple product by a large majority of the target audience, regardless of age. Researchers found that the other three presentations represented poor communication.

This study follows an earlier investigation conducted by Sargent and his colleagues, which found that McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising emphasized giveaways like toys or box office movie tie-ins to develop children’s brand awareness for fast food chains, despite self-imposed guidelines that discourage the practice.

While the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission play important regulatory roles in food labeling and marketing, the Better Business Bureau operates a self-regulatory system for children’s advertising. Two different programs offer guidelines to keep children’s advertising focused on the food, not toys, and, more specifically, on foods with nutritional value.

“The fast food industry spends somewhere between $100 to 200 million dollars a year on advertising to children, ads that aim to develop brand awareness and preferences in children who can’t even read or write, much less think critically about what is being presented.” said Sargent. 

Citation:

Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Gottlieb M, Emond J, Sargent JD. Children’s Reaction to Depictions of Healthy Foods in Fast-Food Television Advertisements. JAMA Pediatr.2014;():. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.140.

This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program.



McDonald’s Repeatedly Violates CARU Premium Guideline

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

In response to a recent study finding that nationally televised fast food television advertisements to children by McDonald’s and Burger King from 2009-2010 focused primarily on toys, movie tie-ins and branding, CARU Director Wayne Keeley stated that “[b]oth companies have always respected CARU’s recommendations by discontinuing the challenged ads, and pledged to take into account CARU’s recommendations in their future advertising,” and went on to note that there haven’t been any recent cases involving either of the two companies.

A look at CARU case reports tells a different story. Since 2005, McDonald’s Corporation has been cited by CARU six times for violations of its premium guideline. Just one of these cases, from Sept 2012, was decided in McDonald’s favor. The most recent CARU case against the company in December 2012 found the premium guideline had been violated. Each time McDonald’s pledged to take CARU guidelines into consideration in future advertisements. Burger King also was found to have violated CARU’s premium guideline in 2011.

CARU

A list of CARU case reports. Click on the image above to view a larger version.



New study finds McDonald’s and Burger King responsible for 99% of fast-food television ads for kids, suggests industry’s efforts to self-regulate its marketing practices are ineffective

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Fast-food companies emphasize toy giveaways and movie tie-ins rather than food products when marketing to kids on television, which suggests that industry is not abiding by its self-regulatory pledges for child-directed marketing, according to a study co-authored by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. The study, “How Television Fast Food Marketing Aimed at Children Compares with Adult Advertisements,” is published in PLOS ONE and found that among ads for children’s meals, toy giveaways appeared in 69 percent of ads and movie tie-ins were used in 55 percent of ads.

“Fast-food companies use free toys and popular movies to appeal to kids and their ads are much more focused on promotions, brands, and logos—not on the food,” said James Sargent, Professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the lead author of the study. “These are techniques that the companies’ own self-regulatory body calls potentially misleading and it’s a clear sign that they’re not living up to their pledges about marketing to kids.”

Sargent and his colleagues examined all nationally televised ads for children’s meals by leading fast-food restaurants for one year, from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. They compared ads for kids with ads for adults from the same companies to assess whether self-regulatory pledges for food marketing to children had been implemented.

 Key findings include:

Leaders of the food and beverage industry have publicly recognized the need to reform marketing practices targeting children. In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary pledge by major U.S. food manufacturers to advertise only healthier products to young children. McDonald’s and Burger King participate in the CFBAI. Both companies also have pledged to abide by marketing guidelines set by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which include a provision stating that food—not toys or other promotions—should be the primary focus of ads directed at kids.

“This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that there’s a big gap between what industry has promised and what they’re actually doing when it comes to marketing to kids,” said Cara Wilking, J.D. of the Public Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. “There comes a point when intervention by a regulatory body like the Federal Trade Commission or state Attorneys General is needed to address self-regulatory failures. These findings suggest we’ve reached it with respect to fast food marketing to kids.”

A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that among all U.S. food and beverage companies, fast-food companies spent the most on marketing directed at youths ages 2 to 17—more than $714 million in 2009. The report also found that fast-food companies have dramatically increased their spending on television ads and new media targeting kids ages 2 to 11. Further analysis of that report shows while some fast-food restaurants slightly improved the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, the number of child-directed television ads for other higher-calorie meals and menu items more than doubled from 2006 to 2009.

###



NYC’s new soda size restriction should survive any legal challenge (but, so far, hasn’t): An Update

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Update:  July 30, 2013

At this point, the Supreme Court of NY County (March 11, 2013) and the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Dept. (today) have ruled that the sugary beverage serving size cap in New York is invalid. The case name is: In re New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, et al. v. New York Dept. of Health and Mental Hygene, et al..

Clearly, I was mistaken in my prediction (see original post below) that the measure would survive a legal challenge.  While the City will seek review by the Court of Appeals of the State of New York (the state’s highest court), this has clearly turned into an uphill battle for Mayor Bloomberg and the City at this point.

Interestingly, the beverage industry has (so far) successfully relied on a case brought by the tobacco industry in the 1987 to successfully the stop the NY Health Council from taking steps to regulate smoking in public places.  At that time, it was politically impossible to get the state legislature to enact smoking restrictions in public indoor areas and limit smoking in restaurants. Such a measure was viewed as an extreme infraction on smokers’ rights.  In that case,  Boreali v. Axelrod, the court held that for several reasons, only the legislature was suited to enact such a restriction.  Those same reasons are cited in today’s decision reinforce the impression that many of the same societal changes and setbacks experienced in tobacco control are playing out around obesity prevention policy.

  1. In Boreali, the Court found that the administrative health agency took economic issues into account by exempting restaurants and bars from smoking bans.  Economic concerns are beyond the scope of a health agency’s legal authority. In today’s decision, the fact that NYC exempted convenience stores and bodegas was interpreted as an economic concession (despite the City’s strong arguments to the contrary).
  2. In Boreali, the fact that the state legislature had previously rejected smoking bans suggested that it was inappropriate for a health agency to go ahead and do an end-run around a matter previously before the legislature.  Likewise, in today’s decision the Court found that the NY City Council has “targeted” sugary beverages in the past, so this subject matter should be off-limits to the Board of Health.
  3. In Boreali, the Court ruled that the fact that the health agency was drafting a new type of restriction was evidence that it was “writing on a clean slate” rather than tweaking or otherwise perfecting an existing restriction that was clearly within its purview. Same thing here.  It was a new and innovative regulation which, according the this Court’s reasoning, is why it ought to be handled by a legislative body rather than an administrative agency.
  4. Finally, the Court in Boreali found that a simple no-smoking rule did not involve expertise in health matters.  In today’s decision, too, the Court found that a simple beverage size ban did not require health expertise and, therefore, is beyond the scope of authority granted to the Board of Health.

Under today’s ruling, any one of these four factors could invalidate agency action. Such strict application of Boreali  may ultimately represent chilling new limits on the powers of health boards in New York state.

While analysts may disagree over whether the Court’s decision today was a well-reasoned one, and it may yet be subject to further appellate review, it is important to note that it is basically a dispute about New York law and not a fundamental legal problem with placing limits on serving sizes for sugary beverages that is at issue.

But that said, the real disagreement may be more about evolving norms surrounding sugary beverages than about administrative authority.  As norms around tobacco use evolved over time, Boreali is increasingly seen as an example of the tobacco industry gaining a temporary victory at the cost delaying the protection of the public’s health.  Perhaps today’s decision will be seen in a similar light in the not-too-distant future as norms around sugary beverages continue to evolve.

-Mark Gottlieb, J.D., Executive Director
Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law

 

Original Post
——————————————————————————————–

Today the New York City Board of Health approved first-in-the-nation limits on the maximum size of sugary drinks served in restaurants, theaters, and sports venues. The vote was 8-0 in favor of adopting the regulation with one abstention. Grocery and convenience stores are exempt and diet drinks, juices, and drinks that are 50% of more milk (or milk substitute) are excluded.

While the measure drew ire from critics throughout the political spectrum, and has been inaccurately characterized as a “ban,” it has succeeded in invigorating the debate on the role of sugary drinks in obesity and the role of government to encourage  mindful consumption.  Such mindful consumption will begin 6 months from today when the new rule should go into effect.

In the meantime, there may be efforts by big drink stakeholders to challenge the regulation.  One such group, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a group closely aligned if not controlled by the American Beverage Association, has hinted at such a challenge.  The pro-business think tank, the Washington Legal Foundation, has published comments on the measure that suggest the basis for a legal challenge. A credible legal challenge could result in the granting of a injunction that could delay or derail the beverage size restriction. However, there appears to be little chance that such a challenge will lead to any measure of success.

The Washington Legal Foundation’s primary legal argument to oppose the measure is that it is the type of action that is normally reserved for legislation rather than rule-making by an administrative agency. The problem with that argument is that regulating serving sizes of sugary drinks in food establishments is clearly within the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s authority to protect the public’s health under the City Charter’s sec. 558 and to engage in rule-making under sec. 1043.  The Washington Legal Foundation public comments cite to a 1980s case, Boreali v. Axlerod. The case involved an early New York non-smoking rule that was overturned primarily because the state’s Public Health Council considered the economic impact of the restriction on businesses and offered waivers for those that could show financial hardship. This went beyond the Public Health Council’s legal authority to issue rules based solely on protecting health.  Here, however, there is no waiver process and no consideration by the Board of Health of the economic impact this rule might have on businesses.

A second issue raised by the Washington Legal Foundation is that the problem of obesity is an important issue of concern to society and that dealing with such social issues is best left to legislative bodies rather than regulatory agencies.  Citing again to the Boreali case, WLF suggests that this is a matter that it should only be addressed by elected officials and not agency appointees.  Essentially, they are making a philosophical rather than a legal argument.  Legally, this rule-making is very clearly within the agency’s purview.

In yesterday’s New York Times, an attorney who has previously represented New York restaurants suggested that the rule could be overturned on Constitutional grounds.  This would be a reference to the Commerce Clause (Art. I, Sec. 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution) which grants Congress the power to regulate commerce among the states.  If a state or, as in this case, a political subdivision of a state, passes a law or rule that substantially affects interstate commerce, it is possible that a court would find that the Commerce Clause reserved that power to Congress and the law or rule would be found to be unconstitutional. However, in this instance, there is virtually no argument that could be made that the beverage size rule could affect interstate commerce any more than the cup size could be found to be a form of free speech that the rule unconstitutionally restricts.  Neither argument is credible enough to argue in a court room.

There is virtually no chance that the rule will be successfully challenged.  Either threats of litigation will not materialize or, if they do, will be quickly dismissed. That result will encourage other communities to replicate the courageous  action taken in new York City by Mayor Bloomberg and the Board of Health.

-Mark Gottlieb, J.D., Executive Director
Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law

 

 



PHAI Publishes Legal Issue Brief on Digital Viral Food Marketing to Kids

Friday, March 8th, 2013

viral_digital_food_marketing_brief_graphic

Food companies used viral digital marketing tactics, such as “tell-a-friend” web campaigns, to induce children to share e-mail addresses of their friends and spread brand advertising of unhealthy foods among their peers.  Even very young children are targeted by these campaigns, which may be considered unfair and deceptive and in violation of state consumer protection laws.

PHAI has prepared a legal issue brief on this topic for state attorneys general as well as stakeholders in children’s health and privacy.  The brief explains the tactics that are used and suggests ways that they can be addressed, particularly under state law.

This work was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#69293).



PHAI joins the Center for Digital Democracy and others in complaint to FTC over children’s websites’ “Tell-A-Friend” tactics

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Today the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston has joined a coalition of children’s, health, privacy and consumer advocacy organizations in a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against several children’s websites for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The offending children’s websites use a “Tell-A-Friend” feature to induce children to provide e-mail addresses of their peers.  The websites involved include McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, General Mills’ ReesesPuffs.com and TrixWorld.com, Doctor’s Associates’ SubwayKids.com, Viacom’s Nick.com, and Turner Broadcasting’s CartoonNetwork.com.

The Tell-A-Friend tactic uses a game or other child-targeted activity as a way to engage children in an immersive  marketing experience and then directs users to share the activity with friends by entering multiple e-mail addresses.  Those children will receive an e-mail that may or may not appear to be from their friend urging them to go to a child-targeted marketing website. This viral marketing tactic creates and reinforces brand awareness providing value to the advertiser.  All of this occurs without prompts for any parental consent and, in McDonald’s case, may involve distributing a photograph of the child taken by webcam to recipients of the e-mail message.

Mark Gottlieb, Executive Director of PHAI, noted that, “COPPA was enacted by Congress to protect children under 13 from divulging any personal information to commercial interests on the Internet without the consent of a parent. By inducing young kids to provide the e-mail addresses of their peers, the companies involved here are certainly violating the spirit of COPPA and, it would appear, the letter of the law as well through these “Tell-A-Friend” practices.  This is something that state attorneys general could also investigate under their consumer protection authority because these tactics are unfair and deceptive.”

In addition to the Center for Digital Democracy which has published the complaints on its website, PHAI was joined by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Media Justice, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, ChangeLab Solutions, Global Action Project, Media Literacy Project, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Citizen, and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.



The Cost of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

By Cara Wilking, Staff Attorney

The passage of San Francisco’s Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance and McDonald’s recent decision to “comply” with the law by charging 10 cents in order to be able to include toys with meals that do not meet minimal nutritional criteria has engendered a lot of public debate. The following table summarizes information from a 2005 Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board decision with Happy Meal cost information from the period between 1999 and 2001:

Toy, Food, Condiment & Paper Costs to McDonald’s Restaraunts of Massachusetts (1999-2001) in US Dollars

 

Hamburger Happy Meal

Cheese-burger Happy Meal

4-piece McNugget Happy Meal

Happy Meal Toy Only

Toy cost

0.43

0.4299

0.4299

0.43

Food cost

0.3104

0.3561

0.4147

 

Condiment cost

0.0162

0.0162

0.0476 (average)

 

Paper cost

0.0434

0.0340

0.049

 

Total cost

0.8000

0.8362

0.9412

 

Menu Price

1.99

2.39

2.69

1.69

For the periods covered, McDonald’s reported that it paid its toy supplier 43 cents per toy. The total cost to McDonald’s for the toy and packaging of the Happy Meals was greater than the cost of food for each Happy Meal type. McDonald’s included a toy with every Happy Meal and sold the toys separately for a retail price of $1.69. The company  noted that it had a dedicated key on its registers in order to process separate toy sales.

In an issue advertisement run by McDonald’s explaining its 10 cent Happy Meal toy plan, the company wrote: “we feel a responsibility to our customers – including parents…who would like to have the option of purchasing…[a toy] separately for their kids.” In reality, prior to the ordinance all customers, including parents, had the option to purchase a toy separate from a Happy Meal. To comply with the letter and the spirit of San Francisco’s ordinance, McDonald’s could have stopped putting toys in with Happy Meals that did not meet nutritional criteria. Customers wanting to buy a toy separately, including parents, would then be treated as they always have been—rung up using the dedicated register key and charged the retail price of the toy.

The good news is that, as Michele Simon points out, there is an easy legal fix to the 10 cent toy strategy. In the short term, McDonald’s response amounts to an incredible missed opportunity to break away from a business model whereby the inedible portion of its children’s meals cost more to produce than the edible portion. The cost spent on toys could be spent to improve the nutritional profile of its children’s menu. The result could have been less trash in the form of discarded toys, a boon to fruit and vegetable producers all over the United States who supply McDonald’s, and, most importantly, healthier kids.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PESTER POWER MARKETING STRATEGIES PLEASE SEE OUR PESTER POWER ISSUE BRIEF.



Coca-Cola Unscathed by Happy Meal Changes?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

1.3 ounces of french fries are out. Caramel dipping sauce is out. A few apple slices are in. Sugary drinks, however, appear to be fully in the mix if not more so now. The 12 oz. “child’s size” Happy Meal soft drink, ranging from 110-120 calories for the non-diet carbonated options, remains the same. The new chocolate milk option has 170 calories and 25 grams of sugar. To put that into perspective, the container of caramel dipping sauce that will no longer be offered has 70 calories and 9 grams of sugar. As the fountain syrup supplier for McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Company must be rather pleased that McDonald’s made no overt change to its default drink option for its “most popular” Happy Meal combinations–soda. Chocolate milk may compete with soda, but  for parents concerned about calories McDonald’s has managed to position its Coca-Cola brand Happy Meal soda offerings as lower calorie alternatives to the flavored milk. Makes one wonder whether The Coca-Cola Company is whistling “badda ba, ba ba, I’m lovin’ it” in response to McDonald’s Happy Meal menu changes.



McDonald’s Happy Meals with Soda & Fries Still the “Most Popular” Meal Combinations

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

 

by Cara Wilking, J.D.

The National Restaurant Association announced last week  that a number of chain restaurants will be offering healthier children’s meal menu options. McDonald’s has opted not to participate in the initiative.  Likely it will point to the fact that it already offers apple slices and milk and that it only advertises the healthier versions of its Happy Meals. These steps, however, do not appear to have translated into making its healthier Happy Meal combinations its most popular Happy Meal combinations.

In a letter dated June 7, 2011, McDonald’s touted its range of children’s menu options and included fact sheets providing nutritional information for its children’s meals. The fact sheets feature six Happy Meal combinations and state that the meal combinations pictured “represent two advertised meals, three most popular meals and Cheeseburger, Apple Dippers and low-fat milk meal.” According to McDonald’s  Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative advertising pledge its “advertised meals” are the 4-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal with apple dippers, low fat caramel dip and a jug of 1% low fat white milk and the Hamburger Happy Meal with apple dippers, low fat caramel dip and a jug of 1% low fat white milk. By process of elimination, the three “most popular” meal combinations emerge as:

The three most popular combinations include french fries and soda despite the fact that McDonald’s only advertises combinations with apple slices and milk.  This is most likely because these less healthy options remain the default when filling Happy Meal orders. If McDonald’s is serious about child health it should take real measures to ensure that its healthiest Happy Meal options become its most popular options.

*McDonald’s was contacted last week to confirm this interpretation of its fact sheets and has yet to do so.



Future of Obesity Litigation panel featuring PHAI’s Gottlieb and CSPI’s Gardner airs and is available online

Monday, February 28th, 2011

On January 21, 2011, Northeastern University Law Journal sponsored its third annual symposium.  This year, it was entitled “From Seed to Stomach,” and addressed legal and regulatory aspects of obesity and food safety.  The symposium was recorded for broadcast by CSPAN, which aired the material from February 25-28, 2011.

PHAI’s Executive Director, Mark Gottlieb, along with Stephen Gardner (Director of Litigation for the Center for Science in the Public Interest) appeared on a panel moderated by Stuart Rossman (Director of Litigation for the National Consumer Law Center) focused on the future of obesity litigaiton.  The 80 minute panel is archived on CSPAN’s website.  Topics addressed included the “cheeseburger bills,” the role of and use of arguments around choice and individual responsibility, consumer protection law, and the litigation against McDonald’s use of toy giveaways to sell Happy Meals.

Research upon which Mr. Gottlieb’s presentation was based was supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#66968) and by the National Institutes of Health (grant RO1 CA 87571).




Copyright 2003-2014 Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at
Northeastern University School of Law