Monday, September 25, 2006

Conflict of Interests?

I just read this, saying that McDonald's is donating $2,000,000 to the Scripps Institute to fund scientific research to help solve America's childhood obesity epidemic.

I'd love to salute their generosity, I really would. I would love to be moved by such a benevolent gift to such a noble cause. But, sentimental sap though I be, I simply can't see this as anything other than a relatively small gift to help a company whose PR has been sagging, especially in the wake of documentary "hit job" Supersize Me (one of the many pieces of leftist propaganda in my movie collection).

Simply put, McDonald's shilling for childhood obesity research is as dishonest as big tobacco leading campaigns to inform consumers of the health risks of smoking. McDonald's, after all, was the company who perfected market directly to children, using an over-sized hypnotic clown to pair their product with the immature desires of children who can't distinguish between advertising and entertainment.

When I think of my own childhood obsession with McDonald's, which forced my parents and grandparents to consume far too many items of dubious nutritious and culinary value, I remember a more recent incident involving my oldest nephew, Josh. One day Josh approached his father, my twin brother Tom, and said "Daddy, did you know that Papa Johns has the best pizza in the whole world!"

To which Tom, somewhere between mildly amused and incredulous, replied something like, "Really, Josh? Where did you hear that?"

Josh, armed with the certainty of youth, said, "I heard it on the TV, so it must be true!"

Josh got a long lecture on the difference between programming - particularly news programming - and advertisements. He's still struggling to understand that just because someone says something is true, that doesn't mean that what they say really is true, especially if they're trying to sell you something.

But, of course, it is easy to dupe people, and it is especially easy to dupe children. And McDonald's has made an nearly uncountable pile of loot using cartoonish characters to blur the line in children's minds between advertising and programming. In doing so they have made the life of many a parent far more difficult by creating an artificial desire for their product in the minds of children - a desire based less on the merits (and especially demerits) of their product, and more on the pair of that product with lovable lush figures.

Of course, while they count their dough (pardon the bad pun) we count the pounds added to our collective waistlines, and more troublingly the waistlines of our children. This is not to say that McDonald's is solely or even primarily to blame for the epidemics of obesity and childhood obesity in our culture. But it is to say that they participate in it, and profit from it.

If they fund an honest study, it will probably tell them a number of things which we already know. What you eat matters, and what they serve is not fit to be eaten. Sure, the epidemic of obesity and childhood obesity is more complicated than that, but certain aspects of it are simple, and simply put, they are part of the problem. They don't need to put $2,000,000 into the hands of researchers to find that out.

The bigger question is, as it become undeniable that the fast food industry in general and McDonald's (as the symbol of our fast food culture) in particular are helping to make Americans the fattest people on the planet, what are they going to do about it? Because a $2,000,000 PR job isn't going to be nearly enough.

3 comments:

Liam said...

There's not much more to add to this. I agree with you completely, Chris.

The weird thing is that people go to McDonald's in places like Spain, when there are better, cheaper, and healthier alternatives next door.

Pete said...

I agree that it is both laughable and disgusting for McDonalds to sponser a study such as that. That being said I am not going to blame McDonalds or any fast food resturant for my 240lb body. That's of my own doing.

Sandalstraps said...

Liam,

I hear you. Weird indeed. I have no idea what to make of that phenomenon.

Pete,

Good to see you here again!

I struggled with what to say about McDonald's decision to fund childhood obesity research. On the one hand, I do think that it is a PR stunt designed to deflect blame. Also, $2,000,000, while a great deal of money to someone like me, is

a.) a drop in the bucket for McDonald's, and

b.) only a very small amount of the money needed for medical research in any area - medical research can be quite expensive.

So I don't think that they are doing nearly enough here, and I have serious questions about their motives.

That said, they are doing something, which is a welcome change of pace. So I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that their donation is disgusting. Rather, the way in which they do business is disgusting.

I admire your willing ness to take personal responsibility for your health. While I'm pretty skinny I need to do the same. Not for obesity, but for other minor ailments which I'm not controling the way that I should. My asthma has gotten out of hand the last few months, but I haven't seen a doctor. I need to own up to that failure to take care of my health, and do something about it.

But you are not the only one who needs to take responsibility. While you do have an eating problem (like most of the rest of our country), and while you do need to own up to it, there are many corporations which take advantage of and profit from your problem.

With an addiction scenario it is not only the addict who acts, but also the pusher. And companies like McDonald's are pushers, dealers who create an artificial demand for an unhealthy product by marketing directly to children, getting them hooked on the stuff.

Now we've got a dealer investing money in treatment programs, and I've got to wonder why. Is this the first step to recovery, or is this one more clever ploy to try to hold on to a market share in a changing world?