A children’s health advocacy group is protesting a McDonald’s campaign that offers books instead of toys inside Happy Meals. (Photo: Corbis)
A new McDonald’s promotion in Australia is giving kids the option of collecting books instead of toys, but one health advocacy group is calling for an end to the campaign that the Golden Arches calls “Happy Readers.”
In the new promotion, kids who order a Happy Meal can skip the classic free toy and opt for a book instead. The fast food chain is offering 10 paperback nonfiction books and another 16 e-books, according to the Herald Sun. Options include comics based on Angry Birds and My Little Pony, as well as titles like Playful Puppy and Wild Baby Animals, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But while the reading alternative seems better for kids than, say, a plastic Minion, the Parents’ Jury, a children’s health advocacy group, is asking Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau to halt the promotion. The concern, it says, is that in order to collect all the titles, kids would need to eat an exorbitant amount of fast food within the eight-week promotion period. According to Alice Pryor, campaign manager for the Parents’ Jury, the campaign encourages excessive consumption of McDonald’s food, which is “certainly not recommended for healthy eating,” she told the Herald Sun. “As a parent, it’s a lot harder to say ‘no’ to your child if they are asking for a book than it is when they want a Minions toy.”
Instead of the classic plastic toy, kids in Australia can now collect one of 26 books when they order a Happy Meal. (Photo: McDonald’s)
An Australian spokeswoman for McDonald’s told the Herald Sun that Pryor’s complaints are unfounded. “In fact, we know that parents take their children to eat at McDonald’s only one to two times a month,” she said, adding that parents can buy the books for their children for only $1.50 if they want to skip the meal altogether. “We advertise Happy Meals with apple slices and low fat milk in compliance with nutrition criteria set by external dietitians.”
Neither McDonald’s nor the Parents’ Jury responded to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
McDonald’s has run similar promotions in the U.S., offering books instead of toys in Happy Meals, as recently as January. The fast food giant didn’t respond to Yahoo Parenting’s inquiry as to whether the Happy Readers promotion will make its way to the States.
Nutritionist Patricia Bannan, author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight, says the real concern isn’t about books versus toys. “We need to be giving our kids nutritious foods, so if the Happy Meal is unhealthy, that’s the issue,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Restaurants have made great strides with the apple slices and water instead of fries and soda. But until it’s a healthy meal for kids, we shouldn’t be promoting it.”
Bannan says that offering a number of different books or toys is indeed a problem, as it gives kids a reason to continually return to fast food. “This is an incentive to increase the frequency of unhealthy eating, whether with a toy or a book, and that’s a problem,” she says. Not that parents need to ban McDonald’s or other fast food chains altogether. “I’m a realist, not a perfectionist. You don’t have to eat perfectly all the time, you can have a Big Mac. Is it a once-a-month treat? Great, enjoy yourself. But if it starts to become a daily part of your diet, you need to revamp your eating.”
If parents find it hard to deny their child’s request for a book, they shouldn’t go to the restaurant in the first place, Bannan says. “Once you’re in the door, it’s harder to say, ‘No, you can’t have that,’” she explains. “If your kid says, ‘I want McDonald’s,’ say, ‘We’re going to go to another place.’ Take them somewhere you know is healthier. Better options are popping up everywhere, adding more competition for McDonald’s, and that means we are moving down the right path.”