Leading article: Happy days

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The Independent Online

Depending on your point of view, the McDonald's "Happy Meal" is either a grossly unethical marketing ploy by giant US corporations to lure children into an early dependency on unhealthy food with the help of small plastic toys, or it is merely a harmless treat. But whichever interpretation you favour, it is the end of an era for this stalwart of the junior McDonald's menu. Disney has decided that, after this summer, its films will no longer be promoted by the McDonald's Happy Meal tie-in. The world's largest children's entertainment company has reportedly made this decision on the grounds that the McDonald's association is damaging its "family-friendly" image.

This is one more sign that the Western love affair with convenience food is waning. It began with Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which exposed some of the unsavoury realities behind the fast food industry. Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me followed, which demonstrated, in queasy detail, the awful toll an exclusive diet of fast food takes on health. The message is now trickling down to children too. A junior version of Fast Food Nation is expected soon.

Some of the vilification of McDonald's is excessive. The company is, after all, merely providing a service that people (albeit in declining numbers) want. No one is forced through the Golden Arches. Yet it is certainly welcome from a public heath perspective that the growing recognition of the obesity crisis in our societies is now producing changes at the counter. This route is preferable to any clumsy government regulation. Let the market decide if people are "lovin' it" or not.

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