Center for Science in the Public Interest
    A mother of two from Sacramento, Calif., says that McDonald’s uses toys as bait to induce her kids to clamor to go to McDonald’s and to develop a preference for nutritionally poor Happy Meals. With the help of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, today the mom, Monet Parham, is filing a class action lawsuit (pdf download) aimed at stopping McDonald’s use of toys to market directly to young children. The suit will be filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco shortly after the court opens for business Wednesday morning.

    According to Parham, the main reason her six-year-old daughter, Maya, asks to go to McDonald’s is to get toys based on Barbie, i-Carly, Shrek, or Strawberry Shortcake. The food seems almost beside the point to the kids, says Parham, because the toy monopolizes the attention of Maya and her two-year-old sister Lauryn.

    “McDonald’s congratulates itself for [healthy Happy] meals that are hypothetically possible, though it knows very well that it’s mostly selling burgers or chicken nuggets, fries, and sodas to very young children,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “In other words, McDonald’s offerings consist mostly of fatty meat, fatty cheese, French fries, white flour, and sugar—a narrow combination of foods that promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—and may lead to a lifetime of poor diets.”

    “What kids see as a fun toy, I now realize is a sophisticated, high-tech marketing scheme that’s designed to put McDonald’s between me and my daughters,” Parham said. “For the sake of other parents and their children, I want McDonald’s to stop interfering with my family.”

    In June, CSPI first notified McDonald’s it might be the target of a lawsuit. Repeatedly, CSPI offered to meet with McDonald’s to try to reach an agreement that would avoid litigation, but McDonald’s refused.

    In anticipation of filing its suit, CSPI served McDonald’s with a letter on Tuesday instructing the company to preserve any documents in its possession related to the use of toys to market Happy Meals to children. Lawyers for Parham will seek to examine those documents in discovery as the case proceeds. In addition to CSPI's Litigation Unit, Parham is also represented by private attorney Richard Baker of Baker Law, P.C. in Birmingham, Alabama.

    McDonald’s use of toys to market to children is also beginning to come under scrutiny by local officials. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance setting nutrition standards for children’s meals sold with toys, and CSPI is urging other jurisdictions to consider similar legislation.