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By DAVID BARBOZA The New York Times

THE McDonald's Corporation wants to be everywhere that children are.

So besides operating 13,602 restaurants in the United States, it has plastered its golden arches on Barbie dolls, video games, book jackets and even theme parks.

McDonald's calls this promotion and brand extension. But, a growing number of nutritionists call it a blitzkrieg that perverts children's eating habits and sets them on a path to obesity.

Marketing fast food, snacks and beverages to children is at least as old as Ronald McDonald himself. What's new, critics say, is the scope and intensity of the assault. Big food makers like McDonald's and Kraft Foods Inc. are finding every imaginable way to put their names in front of children. And they're spending more than ever $15 billion last year, compared with $12.5 billion in 1998, according to research conducted at Texas A&M University in College Station.

"What really changed over the last decade is the proliferation of electronic media," says Susan Linn, a psychologist who studies children's marketing at Harvard's Judge Baker Children's Center. "It used to just be Saturday-morning television. Now it's Nickelodeon, movies, video games, the Internet and even marketing in schools."

Product tie-ins are everywhere. There are SpongeBob SquarePants Popsicles, Oreo Cookie preschool counting books and Keebler's Scooby Doo Cookies. There is even a Play-Doh Lunchables play set.

While the companies view these as harmless promotional pitches, lawyers are threatening a wave of obesity-related class-action lawsuits. Legislators are pressing to lock food companies out of school cafeterias. And, some of the fiercest critics are calling for an outright ban on all food advertising aimed at children.

"The problem of obesity is so staggering, so out of control, that we have to do something," says Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The vast majority of what they sell is junk," Mr. Willett says of the big food makers. "How often do you see fruits and vegetables marketed?"

The increase in food marketing to children has closely tracked their increase in weight. Since 1980, the number of obese children, has more than doubled to 16 percent, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites).

School districts in New York and Los Angeles have responded by banning the sale of sugary beverages and snacks in school vending machines.

Most big food companies, despite some promises to offer healthier foods and in some cases to limit marketing in schools, deny that they are to blame for the epidemic of excess weight. They insist that sedentary behavior, a lack of exercise and poor supervision and eating habits are responsible.

Food companies say their commercials don't encourage overeating, that the foods they advertise are meant to be "part of a balanced diet," and that some foods are meant to be only occasional treats.

"We talk about offering carrot sticks," says Karlin Linhardt, the director of youth marketing at McDonald's. "And we have parents come in and say, `We offer them carrot sticks at home. When we come to McDonald's we want a treat, french fries."

Why would companies take aim at children so energetically? Because they, increasingly, are where the money is.

"It's the largest market there is," says James McNeal, a professor of marketing at Texas A & M and an authority on marketing to children. "Kids 4 to 12 spend on their own wants and needs about $30 billion a year. But their influence on what their parents spend is $600 billion. That's blue sky."

In toy stores, children can become accustomed to food brands early by buying a Hostess bake set, Barbie's Pizza Hut play set or Fisher-Price's Oreo Matchin' Middles game. And, for budding math whizzes, there is a series of books from Hershey's Kisses on addition, subtraction and fractions.

Schools are also a major marketing site. With many school districts facing budget shortfalls, a quick solution has come from offering more profitable fast food from outlets like McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut.

SOME schools have contracts to sell fast food; others have special days allotted for fast food.

The Skinner Montessori school in Vancouver, Wash., for instance, has "McDonald's Wednesdays" and "KFC Fridays."

There are McDonald's McTeacher's Nights in Jefferson City, Mo., and Pizza Hut Days in Garden City, Kan.

"It's awesome. They love it," Tracy Johnson, director of nutrition for the 7,500-student school district in Garden City, Kan., says of the Pizza Hut food. "We also serve vegetables. We try to make it into a healthy meal."

According to a survey by the C.D.C., about 20 percent of the nation's schools now offer brand-name fast food.

Vending machines now dominate school corridors. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have "pouring rights" contracts in hundreds of schools nationwide.

Lawyers and consumer advocates have harshly criticized educators for "commercializing the schools" and sending poor dietary messages to children.

"It seems very clear it's a breach of duty," says John Banzhaf, a professor of law at George Washington University in Washington and one of the lawyers pressing for class-action lawsuits against big food companies. "Schools get paid a kickback for every sugary soft drink or burger sold."

Some food companies heatedly defend their promotions, and their products. "I think our communication with children is appropriate; we're not shoving it down their throat," says Ken Barun, director of healthy lifestyles at McDonald's, adding, "To make a general statement that McDonald's food is unhealthy is wrong."

Industry officials concur. "These foods and beverages are safe, and consumers in some cases parents have to be the one to make the decisions about how much should be eaten," says Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which represents the nation's biggest food companies. "The industry is trying very hard to be responsible in the way it markets these foods."

Still, legislators and school districts are rethinking school marketing. There are more than 30 bills before state legislatures around the country proposing to ban certain snacks and beverages from school vending machines, according to the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at Arizona State University in Tempe.

TELEVISION, of course, remains the most powerful medium for selling to children. These days there is no shortage of advertising opportunities with the emergence of the Walt Disney Company's Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, which is owned by Viacom, and the Cartoon Network, a unit of AOL Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting.
More: http://www.yahoo.com/s/93503
 

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You know, as wrong as this is, people really need to take responsibility for themselves and for their children. For the most part arents decide what their children eat, not the children.

Now in school is different. That is most definitely wrong. It's simply not possible for parents to monitor what their children eat at school.
 

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The Skinner Montessori school in Vancouver, Wash., for instance, has "McDonald's Wednesdays" and "KFC Fridays."
Strange news as Montessori schools in Germany have the flair of the alternative movement.
 

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I work at a Pepsi school
. The only vending machine that sells water is almost always empty. Now, this could be a good sign that the kids are drinking water (I've seen one student with a bottle of water in class -- one -- and they're shocked by the amount of water I drink and that I don't drink coffee or soda), or it could be that the company doesn't fill the water machine as often. I'm all for the conspiracies.


We don't sell McDonald's... yet. There's one less than a block from school, so I don't think they've felt the need to put it on campus, but at schools in our district that aren't in such close proximity, they have McDonald's sold on campus at lunch, so as a district we have a contract with them. We do sell Papa John's pizza and some other fast food things (I can't remember off hand).

The only good thing my school has done food-wise, is they've decided to stop charging for fruits and vegetables. When you buy your lunch, there's this huge tray of apples, carrots, celery, fruit cups, pears, etc... and you can just grab whatever you want. You can have some even if you haven't bought anything for that day. It's not the most popular food they have, but at least this way the kids don't have to decide between spending their last 75 cents on a bag of chips or an apple. They can have both.


The other good thing is that if you eat the cafeteria food they've started to let you mix things up a little bit, so it's actually possible to get a decent vegetarian meal. Lacto, granted, but vegetarian. When I was in school, if today was hamburger day, you had to take the hamburger whether or not you were going to eat it.
I think it's supposed to still be that way, legally, but no one has said anything so far.

I think I totally lost the point of this thread in there somewhere. Just another one of my public school caf food ramblings.
 

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I agree with Michael. No matter how much I wanted McDonald's when I was little, I didn't get it very often b/c my parents recognized how nutritionally deficient it was.

Fast food in the schools is scary, but is it really any more unhealthy than school cafeteria food? We didn't have McDonald's or Burger King in my high school, but the food they served could hardly have been considered healthy. I used to eat pizza, tater tots, and a milkshake for lunch. Not very good.
 

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i dont think schools should be serving lunches perid cafetera lunches are flat out unhealthy cafeterias should supplment boxed lunches or suppl;y boxed lunches to low income kids and be done with it. it would save a whole lot of money and maybe piss a few parents off who have to make the lunches but our kids would be much healthier. I certainly was for it (my school served soup and milk and we brought our own lunches)

Say
 

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school lunches are very important because there are alot of kids out there who don't get breakfast or a very good dinner.

Sometimes this is because the parents can't afford it.....

But I do agree the nutrional content of school lunches isn't much better than mcdonalds in most cases.

I like Mskedi's school giving out free fruit!
 

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Originally posted by JavaPrincess

i dont think schools should be serving lunches perid cafetera lunches are flat out unhealthy cafeterias should supplment boxed lunches or suppl;y boxed lunches to low income kids and be done with it.

I'm confused... how is supplying boxed lunches to low income kids going to fix this? How would the boxed lunches be any healthier? Or cheaper? If anything, by getting rid of the contracts with the fast food companies, it would cost the schools money. Usually those contract dollars are used for computers, paper supplies, etc.

I'm not a fan of having the fast food restaurants in the schools (hence the previous rant), but it's a pretty complicated issue. Especially right now in CA as L.A. is phasing sodas out and cutting the supply budget. It's scary.
 

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I agree parents have the primary duty of controlling their kids diets, but the level of marketing to kids is nuts. Every frik'n meal comes with a toy; that's hard to compete with. I think when I was kid it was glass or maybe a paper crown; now it's video games.

I do think it's time for the gov't to step in and smack the fast food companies around a little regarding the kids oriented marketing. Child protection, above and beyond what is provided by parents, is a principal that has long been affirmed in tradition and law in the US. Marketing cigs to kids isn't allowed; rules regarding child labor are decades old; doesn't it make sense for the gov't to start looking at unhealthy and unethical marketing to kids?

That being said, I still believe lack of exercise is the bigger culprit. 100 channels of crap on TV, video games, computer games are part of the problem. Boredom is being addressed without motion. Another part is that we, as parents, can't feel comfortable letting the kids loose to play outside anymore. I'm a ball of stress when my 4 year old is in the front yard while I'm cooking supper; I have no idea how long it will be before I let her walk down to the park alone. Maybe when she's twenty.
 

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I agree with vick vega and a friend of mine just told me that experts predict one out of every three babies born in the U.S. this year will be diagnosed with diabetes sometime during their lifetime.

Parents obviously need help.

After watching Saturday morning cartoons, my younger children can always tell me what nifty new toy is in the happy meal and the kid meal and the...

I really think it is too much when you have child psychologists working diligently for huge corporations, to make America's children want want want.

None of it should be near public schools.

I love the idea of free fruit at schools, though.
 

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I also read this when it was up on Yahoo! It's depressing what a commercial society we live in. Yes, parents are responsible for making these choices for children, unfortunately most parents are sold as well. I think it's wrong for companies to put the images of children's favorite characters on unhealthy food products. If we're talking toys or clothing that is themed after a cartoon character, for instance.. fine, who cares. They had McDonalds Barbie items when I was a kid in the 80's, so that's nothing new. Still, I'd be happy to see it go away, it's the wrong message. Kids need to live a little and have fun, but having to argue with them if they're screaming for unhealthy food just because it has a cute character on the package isn't fair to the parents who do want to make a difference.
 
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