The McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion making parents & health experts mad

It’s the McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion that’s left a bad taste in the mouths of parents and children’s health advocates.  They claim the fast food giant enticing children to upsize their junk food intake, under the guise of promoting reading.

McDonald’s Happy Readers promotion, which launched last month in Australia, has come under attack from children’s health advocacy group, The Parents’ Jury. So incensed is the group, it’s made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau, in a bid to end the Happy Meal promotion.

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The Happy Readers promotion sees children get a free book when they buy a Happy Meal. There are 10 hard copy books and 16 digital readers to collect. The Parents’ Jury say children will need to eat 23 Happy Meals in only eight weeks to get all the books. An accompanying Happy Readers app is preloaded with three free titles, but access to other titles in the series is only available by entering a unique code that can only be obtained by purchasing a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

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Campaigns Manager for The Parents’ Jury, Alice Pryor, says, “This app is clearly designed to appeal to, and be easily operated by, young children. What worries parents is the fact that the in-app bookstore and the Happy Meal box clearly display the titles that the child has yet to collect. To collect all 10 books and 16 digital readers, children would need to consume 23 Happy Meals in an eight week period. That’s a lot of fast food in just two months and is certainly not recommended for healthy eating!”

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As spokesperson from McDonald’s has responded: “To say parents are likely to take their kids to McDonald’s 23 times in eight weeks is just ridiculous.”

The Parents’ Jury cites Melbourne mum of two Cheryl McLeod as an unhappy parent.

“I hate the connotation that children can be “Happy Readers” while eating unhealthy food. This app is exploiting the fact that most parents will encourage reading and are happy to see children excited about collecting new titles. Children’s brains need nutritious food to develop properly and provide the concentration needed to read books, not the regular consumption of fast food that collecting this series of digital books encourages,” says Cheryl.

The groups says promoting Happy Meals through digital media “is a worrying development for parents as this is an area with little or no mandatory regulation”.

McDonalds says it knows parents take their children to eat at its stores “only one to two times a month”.

“Like all of our Happy Meal toys, the books are also available for purchase for $2 for parents who would like to buy them independently of a Happy Meal. We advertise Happy Meals with apple slices and low fat milk or water in compliance with nutrition criteria set by external dietitians.”

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