US: McDonald's Ending Promotion on Jackets of Children's Report Cards

Publisher Name: 
New York Times

McDonald's
has decided to stop sponsoring Happy Meals as rewards for children with
good grades and attendance records in elementary schools in Seminole
County, Fla.

The "food prize" program, as it was called, for students of the
Seminole County Public Schools in kindergarten through fifth grade was
sponsored by the owners of the McDonald's restaurants in Seminole
County, in central Florida northeast of Orlando. The decision to end
the promotions for the program, appearing on children's report-card
jackets, came from executives at McDonald's USA, part of the McDonald's
Corporation, the world's largest fast-food business.

The sponsorship, between the restaurant owners and the Seminole
County school board, drew national and international attention amid an
outcry over childhood obesity and junk food diets because a fast-food
chain was tying its products to academic performance. It also generated
controversy because McDonald's USA had agreed to curb its advertising
to children in schools.

The decision was made "because we believe the focus should be on the
importance of a good education," William Whitman, senior director for
communications and public affairs at McDonald's USA in Oak Brook, Ill.,
said Thursday. "McDonald's, not the school district, will cover the
cost to reprint the report-card jackets," he added, and "remove our
trademarks."

The reward program, called Made the Grade, will continue, Mr.
Whitman said, because the local restaurant owners agreed in September
that it would run through the current school year.

The sponsorship became known last month when a parent complained
about it to an activist organization, the Campaign for a
Commercial-Free Childhood. The parent, Susan Pagan, was upset about the
promotion on her daughter's report-card jacket. The jacket showed
Ronald McDonald, the company's mascot for children; its Golden Arches
logo; and Happy Meal menu items like Chicken McNuggets.

"Check your grades," the jacket advised. "Reward yourself with a Happy Meal from McDonald's."

The local McDonald's restaurants replaced Pizza Hut as a sponsor of
the incentive program. Pizza Hut had sponsored a similar promotion for
a decade, as part of a national campaign to encourage children to read.

Because of the attention the complaint drew, the school district
said last month that it would review the appropriateness of the jackets
in the spring when making plans for the 2008-9 year.

But when McDonald's USA offered to reprint the report-card jackets
immediately, Beverly Perrault, executive director for elementary
education, said, the district accepted the offer.

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free
Childhood, said Thursday that she was pleased with the end of the
report-card advertising.

"In the absence of needed government regulation to protect
schoolchildren from predatory companies like McDonald's," she added,
"the burden is on parents to be vigilant about exploitative marketing
aimed at children."

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture
  • 182 Health
  • 188 Consumerism & Commercialism