Physicians Blast McDonald's for Rewarding Unhealthful Choices

The Physicians Committee
NEWS RELEASE June 13, 2014
Physicians Blast McDonald's for Rewarding Unhealthful Choices

McDonald’s Receives SICK Award for Adding Books Rather than Removing Fat and Cholesterol

WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee—a nutrition advocacy group of more than 10,000 doctors—is calling out McDonald’s for changing its marketing to make kids’ meals appear more wholesome—rather than changing the nutritional aspects of the actual food. This advertising tactic earned McDonald’s the Physicians Committee’s SICK (Social Irresponsibility toward Consumers and Kids) Award.

Even though a cheeseburger Happy Meal has 520 calories, 20 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, and a whopping 880 milligrams of sodium, McDonald’s markets the meal specifically for children—even offering a toy as a reward. Recently in the United Kingdom, McDonald’s has swapped the toy for an e-book. McDonald’s enacted a similar ploy in the United States in November 2013. McDonald’s was able to laud itself for providing more than 20 million books to American families. McDonald’s used the books to promote its unhealthful Happy Meal, even though more than one-third of children overweight or obese.

McDonald’s kids’ meal marketing is already on shaky ground with customers. The chain launched a new Happy Meal mascot, and it had a negative viral reaction. The anthropomorphic Happy Meal box named Happy was designed to appeal to children, but the plan backfired. A Washington Post blogger referred to Happy as a “hideous demon creature.” Several online videos show children reacting poorly to the new design.

“McDonald’s is trying to latch onto the health halo that comes along with offering books instead of toys,” says Cameron Wells, M.P.H, R.D., staff dietitian for the Physicians Committee. “But instead of feeding kids’ minds, it’s damaging their bodies with foods high in fat, sodium, and cholesterol. The menu is what needs to be revamped, not the toys.”

In 2006, Disney ended its contract with McDonald’s, not wanting its recognizable characters and images to be used in the promotion of potentially harmful foods. At the 2013 annual McDonald’s shareholders meeting, a nine-year-old girl spoke out against McDonald’s, asking the company to stop using marketing tactics to trick kids into eating foods that aren’t good for them. The same girl sent a letter to be read at this year’s meeting, noting that nothing has changed, and McDonald’s should focus on promoting more healthful options.

The SICK Award is given to a restaurant chain or food manufacturer that promotes unhealthy foods to consumers and children. Consumers and parents can tweet their concerns about Happy Meal marketing @McDonalds, or they can e-mail the Board of Directors at

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.