In conjunction with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Monet Parham, a 41-year-old mother of two, filed a class action against McDonald's on Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court, claiming that the fast food chain's practice of giving away toys with Happy Meals is a form of deceptive advertising to children.
The CSPI also claims that McDonald's uses Happy Meals toys to circumvent parental control, and to teach children to want unhealthy, calorie-packed foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat. "Marketing to kids is an end-run around parental control," Stephen Gardner, CSPI's director of litigation, told NPR.
CSPI explained its position in a statement it released about the lawsuit:
According to the Institute of Medicine and the American Psychological Association, kids as young as Maya do not have the cognitive maturity to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. Advertising that is not understood to be advertising is inherently deceptive — an idea that CSPI's lawsuit points out is well established in law. "Every time McDonald's markets a Happy Meal directly to a young child, it exploits a child's developmental vulnerability and violates several states' consumer protection laws, including the California Unfair Competition Law," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner.
Even though Happy Meals television advertising shows brief glimpses of healthier products, such as Apple Dippers and low-fat milk, the default options put into Happy Meals by McDonald's employees are usually French fries and sugary sodas. In a CSPI study of 44 McDonald's outlets, French fries were automatically included in Happy Meals 93 percent of the time. Soft drinks were the first choice offered to customers 78 percent of the time.