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January 19, 2009

McMixed Messages: The Breakfast of Champions?


I went to McDonald's last weekend. I always feel guilty about it, but currently I am interested in childhood obesity and its causes. (And it was convenient, quick and cheap). Although the health of children is greatly affected by the food children receive at home and until recently, the terribly unhealthy options they had at school for lunch and snacks, I wanted to explore the attraction of fast food.

Fast food advertising aimed at children was banned in the UK in 2006, although these rules are often flouted, particularly online, where fast food websites contain branded games and 'kid-zones'.

Whilst tucking into my burger and chips, I noticed the olympic logo and 'Official Sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics'. Intriguing. Are they suggesting anyone actually taking part in the olympics would have a Big Mac in their nutritionist's regime? Shouldn't the olympics be more responsible for the sponsors it partners with?

Sponsorship's an intriguing proposition, particularly when it marries a brand and context that sit uncomfortably together. Since the advertising of fast food joined the outcasts of alcohol aimed at children and cigarettes altogether, the big fast food retailers have clamoured to recoup the profits lost with the resultant dip in custom from children.

I'll centre this article on McDonald's not for the sake of bashing it, but because it is probably the most interesting and prominent example. They have run sustained campaigns of football coaching, sports sponsorship and touring 'festivals' to encourage children to play football.


But is such sponsorship self-defeating? I imagine the bottom line reveals that such sponsorship is still worth it as kids and parents return to the seemingly less health-hazardous restaurants, ignoring the PR-friendly 'healthy' choices (I did hear a myth that the dressing in McDonald's salads contains more fat than a burger) and having the usual burger, chips and sugar-packed drink. The danger, of course, is that companies such as McDonalds are now being let through the school gates, where they can target all children, interested in sports and exercise or not. 1 - 0 to fast food.

It is too early to tell if legislation has been effective, and it will surely be affected by the resourcefulness and determination of fast food chains to find routes around. The other half of the coin is the need for innovative alternatives.



Education and transparency can help people make choices: healthy foods may not have the single identity, PR machinery and ad budgets to compete, but the product is decidedly better. Lecturing and awareness drives are only part of the battle, and an ugly method at that. Although healthy food may not be as instantly appealing as fast food, the longer life span and healthier body and mind, and what you can do with those things, is decidedly so. Change4Life is trying to sell these longer term benefits, fighting obesity and chronic illnesses on several fronts. They have a difficult task ahead. I'm sold, anyway, and made my way to the running shop and bought these - so is Change 4 Life or McDonald's responsible for that one?




1 comment:

Frederic said...

It's the same for Coca Cola and the Olympics. McDonald's and Coca Cola are both amongst the biggest sponsors of the two biggest sport events in the world: the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. During the FIFA World Cup in Germany, small children were sent onto the pitch at the beginning of the game in McDonald's shirts holding the hand of players like Ballack, Beckham or Zidane. Well, what kind of message is that? If FIFA and the Olympic committee were really interested in children's future, they'd better not partner with these companies.