Fast food companies: America’s new leading health advocates?

When junk food companies utilize advertising campaigns that promote healthy living, something isn’t right. Multiple advertising campaigns from big companies like Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and McDonald’s use America’s obsession with healthy living as a marketing tool in their advertising campaigns—most of which are targeted toward children. If junk food companies are the ones teaching kids how to be healthy, it will inevitably give kids false ideas about healthy eating. Ronald McDonald––the red-haired, constantly cheerful, utterly terrifying brand character for the McDonald’s Corporation––is also its "ambassador for an active, balanced lifestyle," according to McDonald's former chief creative officer Marlena Peleo-Lazar. McDonald’s has been sued in the past due to claims that the company hid the health risks associated with its food, yet this did not appear to be an issue when Ronald McDonald toured schools to promote exercise. Clearly, Ronald McDonald has proven himself to be the country’s best resource for knowledge on leading a healthy life.

A recent campaign from the makers of Dr. Pepper called “Let’s Play” aims to encourage kids to exercise by constructing neighborhood playgrounds. While building playgrounds for children is certainly a great marketing strategy, putting the emphasis on exercising away calories instead of eating healthily slyly diverts attention from the fact that the message is coming from a soda company. A single soda can contains nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar, significantly more than the six teaspoons of sugar that the United States Department of Agriculture recommends an adult should consume daily, let alone a child.

Today’s children are learning more about healthy eating habits from junk food commercials than school. While the average American child watches more than four hours of television per day, only 29 percent of high school-aged Americans participate in daily physical education classes. Clearly, our school system is lacking in health education and has been for some time now. It is morally wrong for fast food and junk food companies to step in where schools should be leading.

Food companies that promote healthy eating and exercise have shown that they cannot be trusted. “Healthy living” campaigns have come from so many different junk food and fast food companies that it is unlikely that they all centered their campaigns on this issue by coincidence. Promoting healthy eating has become nothing more than another successful advertising trend.

Everyone knows the television commercials for breakfast cereals like Trix and Lucky Charms. These cereals are overwhelmingly high in sugar, yet each of these commercials end with a shot of a cereal bowl next to a glass of orange juice and the message, “Part of a balanced breakfast.” In today’s advertising climate, this claim seems tame, if not believable.

Cartoon characters should not be teaching kids what healthy eating is. With so many children experiencing childhood obesity, do we really want Ronald McDonald and Tony the Tiger teaching our kids how to be healthy? The healthy eating campaigns seen on television commercials exploit children for their lack of knowledge of healthy eating, as well as adults who are obsessed with America’s weight-loss-obsessed culture and are taught to be fearful of every calorie that they and their children consume.