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An Ethical Dilemma Essay

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There exists a strong link between the way and pace of life in a society and eating habits of the individuals. No matter how diverse and sophisticated the cuisine of a certain culture might be, today’s hyper moving tempo necessitates cheaper and faster food. That is where the fast food sector steps in, saving the day. At first glance, they appear to be life savers with their affordable menus. However, when we take a closer look and observe the long-term effects of fast food on individuals, we are faced with health problems such as obesity and heart diseases.

Nevertheless, fast food firms also do a very good job in marketing their products to carefully targeted audiences, especially children. This paper will focus on the case of McDonald’s and argue how ethical it is for them to advertise for children directly, examining the issue from the perspective of social responsibility. The spread of McDonald’s in other parts of the world creates mixed feelings in some countries, and people even claim that the McDonald’s and the distorted image of Americanization is harmful for their culture and societies.

This opinion is especially valid in Europe, but surprisingly McDonald’s is welcome in Asia.

What is a common reaction in all countries hosting McDonald’s, including its homeland America, is the attitude taken towards the effects of McDonald’s on eating habits and the following negative consequences. There are plenty of fast food advertisements in North America and this industry has especially become a part of the life of families with children. Starting from very little ages, children are used to eating this good-tasting, well-marketed and fun menus which usually come along with a toy for free; and their tastes and eating habits are influenced.

Even though fast food companies have started to offer “light” menus and food with less fat and calories, they do not offer the best menus for children. They continue the habit of eating fast food as they go into adolescence and adulthood, and become another candidate for an obese person with various diseases resulting from being overweight. “Overweight children do tend to become obese adults, putting themselves at a much greater risk, and at a much earlier age, for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease” (Dalton, 2004, p. 2).

One out of three children in the United States is either overweight or at serious risk of becoming so. The number of overweight children ages six to nineteen has tripled within three decades; the rate of overweight preschool children is nearly as great. The accelerating rate indicates that the current generation of children will grow into the most obese generation of adults in history. (Dalton, 2004, p. 2) Although parents are aware that food sold at McDonald’s is not very healthy, they are misled by the fact that it is affordable and makes their children happy.

What is more, some parents do not have very healthy eating habits either; so one should not be surprised in seeing their children liking McDonald’s menus. Moreover, it is not easy to resist the tempting advertisements. “Some might say that no one is forcing parents to buy these products or foods for their children. But, these ads position the products as ‘must haves’. Even if their parents do not buy them the products, children are influenced” (How to Prevent Childhood Obesity. com, 2009).

“Experts name Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s franchise and Walt Disney as the pioneers of child-focused marketing, since they first recognized children as a separate marketing demographic from adults in the 1960’s” (Veracity, D. , 2008). Today, we cannot help but wonder how the managers of McDonald’s feel about the harsh criticisms that the company gets for advertising and promoting unhealthy food for children. From a business point of view, the company has done a great job since it was founded by Ray Kroc in 1955, generated enormous profits and even became a better known brand than Coca-Cola (Veracity, D.

, 2008). Competition in the fast food sector is harsh, so McDonald’s heavily invests in high quality advertisements aimed at targeting the right audience, using celebrities and partnerships with other brands, or cartoon characters in their campaigns if possible. They build playgrounds in their stores, which serve as a socializing place for children to meet other kids and have fun. McDonald’s not only influences American children and families, but also exports its food, image and advertisements to the rest of the world.

They have opened branches in almost all parts of the world, and keep expanding despite the economic recession. They are “optimistic about business prospects in China and plan to open about 500 stores in the country in three years” (Yan, F. & Li, H. , 2009). This gives an important hint about the tastes and habits of the growing generation of children and it is not difficult to foresee that the global influence of McDonald’s will intensify in the coming years, despite all criticisms that it is unethical to promote unhealthy food to children. How ethical is the advertising strategy of McDonald’s really?

Are the managers of McDonald’s actually guilty, or is everyone being too harsh and oversensitive? Even though it is normal for a company to hold its own rights and benefits before everything, if it is as influential and global as McDonald’s, it also has some moral and ethical responsibilities and should consider the social consequences of its actions as well as making profits and opening new stores. One of the most important causes of childhood obesity is lack of exercise, so it might not be totally fair to blame McDonald’s and other fast food chains for obese children.

On the one hand, the McDonald’s culture heavily contributes in a bad way to developing irregular eating habits. But on the other hand, they cannot be the only ones to blame, as children and their parents are increasingly becoming computer and TV addicts, engaging in very little physical activity. When coupled with fast food consumption, health problems become inescapable. What is the solution to this moral problem then? It is obvious that a company this successful will not quit this business or abandon its strategy.

However, McDon can at least modify its advertising approach slightly and recommend doing exercises as the underlying message after having a good McDonald’s meal. They can include famous sportsmen in their advertisements and encourage children to engage in sports. They can give out toys associated with sports brands, even organize sports competitions for children with awards, sponsored by major brands like Nike or Adidas. These are just a few suggestions, and there is no doubt that professionals designing McDonald’s marketing strategy can work wonders with this idea if they want to.

This way, children can learn to associate the consumption of fast food with exercise in their minds and be convinced that they must be physically active in order to burn those calories taken at McDonald’ and be healthy. In conclusion, if McDonald’s and other fast food chains would alter their advertisement campaigns so as to include the theme of more exercise and sports, they would have been more socially responsible. This way, even though they do not sell the most healthy meals, their customers, especially children would know that they have to pay a price for eating a high calorie and high fat meal by doing more exercise.

They would also associate fast food meals with the energy and dynamism of sports, which also makes individuals happy. Therefore, this can be a very good formula for McDonald’s to keep its happy customers all over the world and appease an angry crowd of protesters who argue that McDonald’s advertisements are unethical.


Dalton, S. (2004). Our Overweight Children: What Parents, Schools, and Communities Can Do to Control the Fatness Epidemic. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Should there be Ethical Issues with Fast Food Companies Advertising to Children?How to Prevent Childhood Obesity. com. Retrieved March 25, 2009, from http://www. howtopreventchildhoodobesity. com/ethicalissues- fastfoodadvertisements. html Veracity, D. (2008, July 13).

America’s Fast Food Giants Perfect the Art of Selling Junk Food to Children. Organic Consumers Association. Retrieved March 25, 2009, from http://www. organicconsumers. org/articles/article_1092. cfm Yan, F. & Li, H. (2009, February 18). McDonald’s eye 500 stores in China in 3 years. Reuters. Retrieved March 25, 2009, from http://www. reuters. com/article/ousiv/idUSTRE51H13F20090218

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