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Jul. 17 2009 - 11:01 am | 307 views | 1 recommendation | 13 comments

The ‘Happy Meal’ is destroying America

Happy Meal logo, English

Image via Wikipedia

McDonald’s famed “Happy Meal” turned 30 years old today. That is, 30 years ago, the company began packaging food and toys together in order to lure kids to the fast-food chain’s incredibly unhealthy diet.

Since the meal hit the McDonald’s menu, the childhood obesity rate has nearly quadrupled from 4.2 percent to 17 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Hugely successful, every one of McDonald’s competitors followed the chain’s PR brainstorm, linking food with cheap toys, and it didn’t take long for corporations to see the inherent marketing opportunity. Before long, all that disposable plastic crap inside the bag alongside the high-fat, high carbohydrate meals was hawking Hollywood movies, tv shows, and the like.

And the plastic! Think of the number of discarded crappy toys that end up as trash in our oceans. Every few months, it seems, I’ll find a good half-dozen of the things collected in some drawer or other of my kids’ rooms, and we don’t even eat fast food (barring the occasional road trip). The ubiquity of figurines from the latest animated film is an undeniable fact. Kids play with them for an afternoon, maybe a week later, and then they’re trash.

Yes, I know full well that kids love “Happy Meals” and the Pavlovian promise of a free toy. But these meals should be viewed as nothing less than a plague on our society, making kids fatter and the oceans more polluted. Their predatory marketing strategy has kids (and their parent’s wallets) right in their greedy sights. So, happy birthday, “Happy Meal”. Here’s hoping against hope that you’ll be discontinued before you hit 31.


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  1. collapse expand

    30 year anniversary of the Happy Meal, eh? Thanks for making me feel old Knowles.

  2. collapse expand

    M,
    Yeah, well, as a 12-year-old I was a bit old to get too excited about the toys when they first started showing up in the bag. Time flies, doesn’t it?

  3. collapse expand

    Figured out yet who’s sneaking your kid all those happy meals?

  4. collapse expand

    B,

    It’s in the water here, much like the plastic in the Arctic Sea.

  5. collapse expand

    I love hamburgers and for the life of me can not figure out the appeal of a Macburger. Has anyone ever figured out why kids like them?

  6. collapse expand

    libtree,

    If you haven’t read it, go pick up the book “Fast Food Nation”. The chapter on the chemical engineering of fast food is pretty incredible.

    My theory is that the allure of McDonalds is all about the salt.

  7. collapse expand

    Hey I am as anti fast food as the next diet conscious person, but I don’t think tha Mickey D should be blamed for the whole obesity issue. Let’s face it, we all sit on our asses more than we used to and one of the reasons is the computer, hey I am on my ass now. I agree that the big M is not really concerned over my health.They are only concerned about the profit from destroying it. And the fact that fast food corps use chemicals to make me crave the stuff is wrong, but as an ex smoker I have to say, no one forced the first cigarette into my hand. And no one makes me eat fast food. Hey, if you are worried about the kids eating the stuff, just don’t buy it for them. I hear your disgust and I agree with your outrage, but we as consumers have the power. Let’s just start using it aggressively not passively

  8. collapse expand

    My five year old pretends he can’t read. Today he told me that we *have* to go to McDonalds because they are giving away Teeny Beanies, which I assume are little Beanie Babies, another bane of parenthood.

    Like you, we frequent fast food places only on road trips or in rare desperation on jam-packed days. Anyway, I asked him how he knew this, and he told me he “saw” it on the Beanie Baby website. I checked, and there was no way he could have garnered all the info without being able to read. So the good news is, the kid is reading. The bad news is, I have to take him to McDs. (And, yes, he gets to play on the computer for a half hour a day. Bad mother!)

  9. collapse expand

    Patti,

    No, you sound like a very good mother, in fact. The computer battles are just beginning. Just ask my 10-year-old.

  10. collapse expand

    I think there are a few other things that can be blamed for the rise in childhood obesity, such as affordable bikes, roller skates (and now those shoes that have the little wheels in the heels), and parents who for some reason refuse to make their kids walk anywhere. Kids never have to walk anywhere anymore. As Much mas our parents walked uphill both ways to school in the snow when they were younger, it can be seen that they were the healthier generation. In the words of the immortal Chandler from Friends: “Kids, kids-roll your way to childhood obesity!”

  11. collapse expand

    Very good objections to Happy Meals. With such a name though, it is hard to think of bad things associated with it. Happy Meals just sound American. I’m all for happiness. They are also fairly cheap compared to “good” fast food, and easy. Even come with their own little boxes, so the entire meal can just be handed to the backseat. Parents don’t think of health problems, besides, milk and apples have to be good.

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