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McDonald's & Disney: Fat & happy

Rhianwen Lewis-Holtz

IF MORGAN Spurlock couldn't convince the world with his film "Super Size Me" that consuming increasing amounts of fast food has important negative health implications, I'm not sure what will.

Despite the wealth of knowledge concerning good nutrition, fast-food restaurants continue to feed millions of American children daily. Now the New York Times has reported that McDonald's and Disney are planning to develop kid-sized portable media players so, when kids come in for hamburgers, they can acquire segments of movies, music and games instead of those plastic Happy Meal toys.

Kids will be able to watch a whole movie, one segment at a time - if they keep coming back to eat at McDonald's.

McDonald's and Disney know that children influence the spending of $6 billion a year. They probably also know that obesity is blamed for 300,000 deaths annually and that an estimated 16 to 33 percent of children in the United States are obese.

But, obviously, they don't care. The American Obesity Association points a finger directly at advertising as a factor contributing to childhood obesity. This new marketing concept will undoubtedly be advertised constantly, saturating homes with images and messages urging people to eat at McDonald's.

McDonald's is well-known for its high-calorie, energy-dense food and drink. The concept of good nutrition, however, is a complex and abstract one that many children have difficulty comprehending. Sadly, despite the fact that they cannot fully grasp the detrimental effects of eating such food, children are the ones being targeting as consumers.

And since kids love movies and video games, and parents love their children, the whine factor will make it even more difficult for parents to resist just one more trip to the fast-food outlet.

In its book, "The Case for Action," the European Association for the Study of Obesity notes that "Children are vulnerable to sophisticated marketing techniques and intense repetitive advertising."

McDonald's advertising doesn't have to rely on promoting the allure, taste or health benefits of their food. A 30-second clip showing Ronald McDonald watching a movie on his portable media player will be enough.

The Children's Advertising Review Unit, the self-regulatory group for ads aimed at children, will not likely intervene, considering that McDonald's is one of its primary financial backers.

AND THERE'S plenty of movie madness at McDonald's already, as the company has been distributing toys based on movie characters as a cross-merchandising effort to promote movies for some time.

But under the current setup, parents can at least find an excuse to make a trip to McDonald's a rarer occasion, saying, "You already have that toy, so let's wait for the next one to come out."

But if McDonald's and Disney have their way, a child will be able to earn a new and unique reward with each visit to McDonald's. This will act as a further incentive to go to the restaurant more often in order to get the media download and, by the way, down more burgers, sodas and fries.

And so, the rate of obesity climbs. And there's no government regulatory body to combat such an alluring and enticing proposal. The result? Fatter kids sitting at McDonald's with their butts glued to the seats and their eyes glued to tiny screens. Forget the colorful play area. Who knows, maybe it will be converted to a mini-movie theater.

Until Congress steps in to place some controls to limit unfair marketing to children, advertisers will hold America's children in the palms of their hands.

Rhianwen Lewis-Holtz graduates from Temple University this month with a bachelor's degree in broadcasting, telecommunication and mass media. She is the valedictorian for the December 2006 graduating class of the School of Communications and Theater.

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