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McDonald's under attack -- again

Should McDonald's share the blame for obesity and bad heart health, or are individuals solely at fault?

By Karen Datko Sep 16, 2010 7:18PM

When public health advocates want to take aim at unhealthy fast food, McDonald's has become the target of choice. McDonald's is to fast food what Wal-Mart is to a retail industry that pays rotten wages and offers negligible benefits.


It's far from being the only offender, but it's the one that's singled out as a purveyor of too many unhealthful, fattening foods and not enough nutritious choices.


The latest group to take on Mickey D's is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is airing TV ads showing a pudgy dead guy on a gurney -- the victim of a heart attack, no doubt -- gripping a partially eaten burger.


It looks like the McDonald's brand -- you know, the way the burgers don't quite look like meat. Golden arches appear at his feet. (You can see the commercial here.) The announcer mentions high blood pressure and heart attacks, and recommends that vegetarian should be what's for dinner tonight. Post continues after video.

The group has focused on McDonald's before, producing a chart that explains why a salad "costs more than a Big Mac." It's the federal subsidies, the group says.


Meanwhile, we're waiting to see what becomes of a threat by the Center for Science in the Public Interestto sue McDonald's if it won't stop putting toys in Happy Meals. "By advertising that Happy Meals include toys, McDonald's unfairly and deceptively markets directly to children," the CSPI said in a letter (.pdf file). And we've all heard about the astounding rates of childhood obesity.


So, we have to ask: Is McDonald's being unfairly singled out? Aren't we responsible for our own dietary choices? (We're asking you to chew the fat, as it were.)


A McDonald's spokeswoman said, "This commercial is outrageous, misleading and unfair to all consumers. McDonald's trusts our customers to put such outlandish propaganda in perspective, and to make food and lifestyle choices that are right for them." The National Restaurant Association called the ad "irresponsible."


But do people really know enough to make sound decisions about what they eat? 


Yes, said a Washington Post reader named "Elnok." Cost -- not nutrition -- is the driving force here: "I think people are smart enough to make their own decisions on what they can eat. I just think healthier food should be cheaper, because it's the cost of fast food that makes it so enticing. (That, and Big Macs are pretty yummy.)"


"McDonald's doesn't force people to overeat," said another, "googleguy."


But they certainly do make it easy and attractive: "Want fries with that?" Remember when they used to "super size"? New York Times reader "GE" wrote: "McDonald's cares about the health of its customers like BP cares about the environment."


"I'm loving it," another said about the ad.


McDonald's maintains that the public is on its side. "Our customer websites and phone lines at McDonald's are also busy, with more than nine out of ten customers disagreeing with your agenda," company CEO Jim Skinner said in a letter to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Parents, in particular, strongly believe they have the right and responsibility to decide what's best for their children, not CSPI."


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