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McDonald's sued over Happy Meals

The lawsuit by a consumer group alleges that toys bait children to eat junk food.

By Karen Datko Dec 15, 2010 4:50PM

This post comes from Truman Lewis at partner site


As it threatened in June, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed suit against McDonald's, charging that its Happy Meals use cheap toys as "bait" to lure children into gorging on "unhealthy junk food."

The suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed in California on behalf of Monet Parham, a Sacramento mother who said the Happy Meals make it "so much harder" for her to say no when her children beg her to take them to McDonald's.


If Parham lived in San Francisco, CSPI would have had to find another plaintiff. That city's Board of Supervisors voted last month to limit toy giveaways in children's meals deemed to have excessive calories, sodium and fat. Santa Clara County did likewise.


When the Santa Clara County ordinance was passed, county supervisor Ken Yeager told the Los Angeles Times that it "prevents restaurants from preying on children's love of toys."


'Creepy' practice

CSPI founder Michael Jacobson, who claims to have invented the phrases "empty calories" and "junk food," said "multibillion-dollar corporations make parents' job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising."


The group in June went so far as to compare McDonald's with a child molester in a statement. "McDonald's is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children," CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner said. "It's a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction."


McDonald's responded that parents have the primary responsibility for policing their children's diet and said that it has steadily added more nutritionally worthwhile foods to its menu.


"McDonald's is committed to a responsible approach to our menu, and our Happy Meal offerings. We have added more choice and variety than ever before, a fact that has been widely reported and recognized," the company said.


But CSPI begs to differ.


The nonprofit, Washington-based group says that while Happy Meals advertising shows "glimpses of healthier products, such as Apple Dippers and low-fat milk, the default options put into Happy Meals by McDonald's employees are usually french fries and sugary sodas."


This isn't the first time that McDonald's has faced a nutrition-related lawsuit. In 2005, the company settled a suit concerning its use of trans fats, agreeing to pay $7 million to the American Heart Association and another $1.5 million for a public advertising campaign alerting the public to the dangers of those fats.


In 2008, the company announced that it had begun cooking its fries and other items with a new, zero-trans-fat oil.

More from

Dec 15, 2010 9:06PM

You have to be kidding me, She cant say no. Maybe she shouldn't be a Mom.  Those kids are learning a great lesson, its always someone else fault!


Mom....can we smoke crack today...please, please please!!!!

Dec 16, 2010 5:10PM
And it's McDonald's fault because this mom can't say no to her kids? This is the society we live in. Sue-happy.  So I'm sure now the rest of the kids in the world will suffer because soon they will take out the toys in Happy Meals - or rename the Happy Meal to something "less Happy".  All because some fat *** mom can't not bring her kids to McDonalds everytime they ask.
Jan 26, 2011 12:05PM
Ok, let's get real here. If the mom can't say no to taking her kids to McD's then what CAN she say no to. I mean be a parent. If she starts saying no and sticks to it, they will learn this isn't an option. Make this a special treat. Otherwise cook your kids some meals that are healthy. This MOM is the problem. It seems that today's society always wants to blame somebody else. Let's face it you get fat because you put the food in your mouth (or your kid gets fat because you buy it for them)... McD's just provides the food. There are many other restaurants out there and this thing called a grocery store.
Jan 26, 2011 1:23PM

Parents not children are responsible for the purchase of a happy meal in a vast majority of cases. Essentialy these people are suing McDonald's for engaging in practices that millions of businesses do...and it's called advertising.

I have seen tactics in advertising that were downright predatory and McDonald's advertising is nothing of the sort in even an unreasonable stretch of the imagination.

This lawsuit is about a few parents who skirt their responsibilities as parents and want to blame someone else for their failure to parent. It is also about making a lawyer some money.

It sounds like there are some parents that need to get some guts and be parents. Two of three of my kids are champion whiners but we don't go to McDonald's or any other place unless I say so. I don't respond to their whining because responding to their whining is the perfect way to get them to whine some more!

Dec 16, 2010 10:32AM
This mother does not get it - start cooking at home and don't bring your kids to Mickey D's in the first place. And learn to say no - my parents said no to me so much growing up, I thought it was my middle name! Take responsibility for your own actions and don't give your power to a corporation who could care less about good nutrition for your kids.  Start being a citizen and stop being a consumer!
Feb 9, 2011 8:37AM

I want to know...who first took her child to McDonald's? Who allowed the child to watch the television with the commercial for the dang Happy Meal? I had no idea that McDonald's was so uber powerful that they could make her do those things so her child would be addicted to HAPPY MEALS! I really wonder who she will blame when she can't say no to drugs, sex and rock n roll when the child is a teenager!


Here I will help her out:

Happy Meal at Home


Take chicken breast and cut into small chunks

Roll in crushed cereal (such as frosted flakes or corn flakes)

Sprinkle with seasoning

Bake until golden brown and chicken is cooked throughout


Take sweet potato

cut into shoe string fry

roll/toss in olive oil

sprinkle with cinnamon

bake till crispy on outside and soft inside


Add a glass of fat free milk

a coloring book



Serve to child while still warm from oven, with catsup or some other fat free dipping sauce and a BIG OLD SIDE DISH OF ATTENTION AND PARENTING!



Jan 9, 2011 12:49AM

Of course it's hard to say no.  But you do it anyway, because it's your job.


These people know that you can get the toy alone without a food purchase, right?

Dec 16, 2010 12:45PM
christ, no one takes any kind of responsibility anymore.
Feb 9, 2011 10:05AM
Its sad that a women that cannot say no, causes such an uproar of freedom of choice.  The group behind her suit are a collective group of fanatics with nothing better in life to do than try to force their weird ideas of how the world should live their lives.  I  believe that it is people like these should find constructive to do with their lives.  Try to figure out how to stop poverty, or feed the world.  Its bad enough that we have such changes being forced on us as changing the cooking oil of our fried products to forcing us to eventually eat sea salt,  Stop messing with the food and what you can and cannot put in them or they way they are sold.  You survived didn't you?  You ate fatty foods and had fun with your happy meal toys, didn't  you?  Stop blaming the world for your inability to control your kids.  And the group helping you with this farce of an accusation suit needs to be disbanded and their minds put to better use.
Feb 9, 2011 8:10AM
What lures the parents to eat at McDonald's? If you want to eat healthy and your children to eat healthy, DONT GO TO MCDONALDS!!!HELLO???
Feb 9, 2011 3:27AM
All previous posters have it right. Just because it is hard to do (say no to your kids) doesn't make it someone else's fault if you are unable to do it. This lady needs to be forced by the judge to take parenting classes or something and PAY ALL court fees. It is our tax dollars she's wasting as well as costing us more for our once-in-awhile McDonalds fix.
Feb 9, 2011 1:19PM

This is really outrageous - It is articles like this that are very upsetting to read. Kids need to learn they cannot always get their way and parents need to stand their ground and not give in. Sueing the restaurant is not the answer.


What is obsurd is how the article mentions how McDonalds now has healthier options but that is not what they put in a default happy meal but thats not good enough. How can you be upset about that - at least they are offering a healthy alternative. The business is really looking out for their profit and honestly fries and pop are cheaper than apples and milk.

Parents are aware there are healthier choices - so order kids the better option instead of blaming the company for feeding your kids unhealthy food.


If parents really upset about the food served they wouldnt bring kids to fast food and just cook at home

Feb 9, 2011 1:28PM
Mommy and all need to get a clue... yes the kids love the toys... yet you can order anything on the menu and buy the toy separately.  So it is not a Happy Meal she has to say no to... it is the toy itself.  My son would see the advertisements when he was little and of course want to go to get them.  So we would eat at home or go eat a bit more healthful elsewhere and stop to play at McDonalds getting a kids cone for dessert and a toy at times.  Every week of school when he was little... if he had a great report and no "apples" moved at school for misbehavior and had stickers for good on his board at home (let them pick which ones and put on makes it fun)... he got a star at the end of the week and at the end of the month if he had 3 or more stars (no child is perfect)... he had a choice... a cone and a toy while playing at McDonalds or a visit to the dollar store to pick something for each star.  Inexpensive way to meet in the middle and give child choices, inform them why the food at McDonalds is a treat and not a healthy lifestyle.  Yes... aghast... we even got a small fry on occasion to share. He never got less than three stars and then he outgrew happy meals.As a preteen, he couldn't manage to keep his room reasonable :)  Imagine that!  But he will skip a fast food place now that he's a driving HS teen with more freedom because he knows there are better choices at reasonable prices elsewhere.  He has been taught how to shop, prepare and cook for himself.  FYI the girls are impressed and saves him money on Valentine's Day :)  He is a healthy sports playing honor student now.  So to this Mom I say... RELAX and don't try to bully the rest for your own personal issues... Get a clue and simply be smarter than the franchises and your children.  Sheesh!

Feb 9, 2011 2:11PM
give me a break - if your kids wanted to jump off the bridge to committ suicide r u going to help them - go back to school and get a real job - this is such a freakin sue happy society because people are lame and uneducated.
Mar 15, 2011 7:52AM
Oh, lighten up.  It's called parenting.  The word is, "No."  My brother really believed the the Big New Johnny Express would fire rockets across the room.  I remember my coonskin cap had a droopy tail.  Marketing to children has been going on for years, I am tired of gutless parents who want somebody else to make their job easier.  Stop being my conscience; I have never had a problem with the word, "No."   Learn it--you'll love it.  
Jul 27, 2011 12:42PM
Seriously, they even put the letters together in the alphabet.. 14th and 15th.. n.o. no the only word already spelled out for you in the alphabet.. This is a lazy, whiney mom with no parenting skills. GET A GRIP
Jul 27, 2011 2:15PM
ANother case of lazy parents. Society can't raise your kids. So if your kid keeps going to the deli and picking up candy, what next, your going to tell the deli what to sell. BE A PARENT AND LEARN TO SAY NO. It's kids like these that grow up and go crazy in society.
Jul 27, 2011 3:10PM
Everything relies on the parents.. say NO. Can you imagine if I let my son behaving like a nut case begging for mcdonald's all the time. i say NO.. if my son wants the toy, i just get the toy. BE A REAL PARENT AND SAY NO. BUSINESS IS BUSINESS AND OF COURSE A BUSINESS WANTS TO MAKE MONEY. that's why they add a toy to the happy meal. but we as parents have to choose carefully. Can't believe a parent doesn't have time to raise her/his children and say NO.. but waste time in suing mcdonald's.
Jul 27, 2011 2:30PM

Maybe if she stopped being such a dummy and put more effort into parenting than there wouldn't be such a high obesity rate in children.

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