I’ve been watching the war of words concerning the image of Ronald McDonald, the iconic face behind the McDonald’s fast food chain. Much like the Marlboro Man, he may very well fall by the wayside and become a small piece of America’s past.
Introduced in 1963, Ronald McDonald is known the world over for his orange hair, clown-like presence, and his talent for selling hamburgers. It is the last item for which he is under fire. Well, Ronald and the corporate marketing department that spends over a billion dollars a year on advertising. You see, people are protesting Ronald’s influence and placing blame squarely on his shoulders for the current epidemic of obesity in our children (and the adults who once loved Ronald).
I remember when I was young. We had a concrete ditch across the street where water flowed during winter. In the summertime it was dry and we would sneak over and run up and down its six-foot sides. It was great fun, unless you got stuck at the bottom or got hurt doing it. Back then (right around the time Ronald made his appearance), if you did get hurt, it was your own fault. In fact, your parents probably scolded you for doing it in the first place, adding insult to injury. Twenty years later, anyone hurt in that ditch sued the municipality that owned the ditch. They were awarded thousands of dollars and a fence was erected around the ditch, costing taxpayers twice. Even though they were trespassing and knew better. People just do not take responsibility for their own actions. Such is the case with obesity.
With children, obesity boils down to two factors, calories in and calories out. If kids don’t move around, get enough exercise and eat poorly, then they are bound to gain unnecessary weight. Even if they do get outside but have a high-calorie diet they can still gain weight. And those who sit around all day in front of the TV and/computer but get an average amount of calories, could still gain weight. But you cannot blame the children in most cases. It is the parents supplying the food (with the exception of the controversial school lunches), allowing inactivity, and not setting by example. And yet the blame is placed at the door of the Golden Arches, with the iconic symbol of Ronald McDonald. Will getting rid of him really reduce the number of times you take your children to McDonald’s? Because they don’t drive themselves there, do they?
If Ronald is so influential, then why are some kids obese and others are not? Why aren’t all children who watch TV, see those commercials, and go to McDonald’s become obese? My children grew up with television, knowing who Ronald was, and asking for the occasional Happy Meal. But it was up to me to monitor how many of those meals they got. It was up to me to serve them fruit and vegetables and grains. It was up to me to see that they went outside and played and found activities that suited their temperament and needs.
And let’s not forget that Ronald is the iconic image behind the nation’s Ronald McDonald House Charities, which builds residential units near children’s hospitals nationwide so that parents can stay nearby their children while getting treated, and do so at an affordable rate. They also fund Family Rooms near pediatric units in many of the nation’s hospitals, offering a respite to families with ill or dying children. The charity also offers grants to medical and research organizations and a scholarship program for college.
It’s time for this nation to own up to its deeds, take charge of its obesity, and stop placing the blame elsewhere. The energy expended to shut down Ronald could be better spent mentoring a child, coaching Little League, or assisting in a Special Olympics event. I, for one, say leave Ronald alone. I kinda like his orange hair.