Blame on fast food restaurants unwarranted: McDonald’s

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 12th September 2008

The Australian CEO of the world’s leading fast-food chain McDonald’s, believes the childhood obesity issue is down to a lack of exercise, as debate rages about the responsibilities of food retailers, manufacturers and marketers.

Chief Executive Peter Bush told the House of Representatives inquiry into obesity that there were a number of reasons for the drop off in exercise and believes new studies would absolve fast-food companies of much of the responsibility for the ‘obesity epidemic’. “Certainly the studies have indicated that the issue is linked to a change on lifestyle – kids exercising less, watching more TV, kids playing video games,” he said yesterday. “Where we sit on this is that we probably look at it as a very perplexing and complicated issue.”

Research undertaken by the fast food giant suggests that 1 in every 72 meals a child has comes from McDonald’s (about 1 meal every 3-4 weeks) and Mr Bush believes pointing the finger at McDonald’s was not reasonable. “You’ve got to look at those other 71 meals kids consume that often come out of the cupboard at home,” he added.

The inquiry has also been told this week that children from lower income families are more likely to be obese. University of Sydney Associate Professor Jenny O’Dea told the inquiry that a host of changes to the Government’s current strategy were consequently needed including more funding for disadvantaged schools to provide better active play equipment, improved education of children about health and nutrition, and improved access to healthy foods for lower income families.

The issue of responsibility for food retailers reared its head earlier this month when Hungry Jack’s released a Quad Stack Burger, which reportedly has 1920mg of Sodium, 34.7g of saturated fat and provides over 4000 kilojoules. The decision to sell a burger with four beef patties, four slices of cheese and bacon was met with the expected disgust by health, consumer and parent groups, which would have definitely been anticipated by the burger chain.

Having released a similar burger in the US in 2006 the company was aware of the uproar that would accompany the release but realised that it would provide an opportunity for a discussion about consumers right to choose, not to mention a stack of free publicity. In a test of the “all publicity’s good publicity” ideology, it appears to have come out a winner with sales reportedly surging in the wake of media coverage.

But, while Hungry Jack’s may have come out on top in this battle, the debate continues to heat up: exactly what is the responsibility of food retailers, marketers and manufacturers?

Is it to alter menus by consistently providing healthier products, stop promoting unhealthy products or simply provide enough information that consumers will be able to make an informed choice?

The House of Representatives ‘Inquiry into Obesity in Australia’ was initiated to provide the information for the Government’s new strategy to deal with obesity, with Health Minister Nicola Roxon reporting that a “comprehensive strategy” would be in place by the middle of next year.