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NZ: Statement on Ronald McDonald dental caravans – OAC

In the view of the Obesity Action Coalition, McDonald’s primary responsibility is to make money for its shareholders. It achieves this by selling product. All of the company’s activities have profit as the end objective. Supporting health initiatives enables the company to appear benign and socially responsible and in this instance develop and protect the very lucrative youth market.

OAC does not consider this kind of sponsorship to be appropriate. OAC also considers the promotion of healthy habits and balanced nutrition, which is the message the dental therapists promote, to be completely at odds with other advertising the company uses which encourages consumption. This conflict gives children mixed messages and dilutes the benefit of the health messages.

OAC believes the dental caravans are simply a public relations exercise. True altruism would be to provide funding without company branding. 

 

OAC’s  press  statement begins with a quote from McDonald’s:

 

Ronald McDonald Dental Caravans

“The dental health of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens our children, who live in areas of high poverty is nothing to be proud of. Far too many children are not getting access to basic dental services and are ending up in hospital having treatments that could have been prevented.

A child in pain with tooth ache cannot eat properly, or concentrate at preschool or school. We probably all know what tooth ache feels like – and none of us would wish it on a small child.

The Ronald McDonald Mobile Dental Care Programme will take dental care to remote and rural communities. The service will be run and managed by health professionals through our District Health Boards.

Our first Ronald McDonald Mobile Dental Care will be ready for service in March 2005. We will have more to tell you about that soon.”

(Source: Ronald McDonald website)

 

Our most vulnerable citizens, children living in areas of high poverty, are also those most at risk of becoming overweight and/or obese and most at risk of suffering the consequences of poor nutrition.

The National Children’s Nutrition Survey (2003) found a strong association between the proportion of obese children and the proportion eating

While McDonald’s restaurants have recently added salads, water, fruit and milk drinks overall the menu remains more heavily stacked with unhealthy options. The salads in particular are not priced to appeal to those in poverty as they are much more expensive than the other less healthy options on the menu. In addition many of the menu items are high in sugar. Diet soft drinks, while less damaging to dental health than sugar sweetened drinks, are still acidic enough to damage tooth enamel if consumed regularly.

Overall it is easier and cheaper to eat the unhealthy options offered at McDonald’s.

Dental therapists work not only to fix children’s teeth but also to educate children on dental care. Diet is a very important part of dental health but much of the food promoted and sold by McDonald’s is high in sugar and damaging for children’s teeth. Linking dental health with fast food is a real conflict of interest. It also gives children, who are too young to understand the conflict, very confusing mixed messages.

This is yet another effective means for McDonald’s to reach the youth market. It allows them to build brand loyalty from a very young age. It is targeting a group very susceptible to the advertising messages and persuasion.

The Ronald McDonald Foundation declares it is a charity independent of McDonald’s. This may be so, but it is not a distinction children will ever make. In children’s minds Ronald McDonald is McDonald’s, and McDonald’s is synonymous with burgers, chips and soft drinks.

Sponsorship is advertising. In this instance it is advertising supported, and made more effective, by the connection with health organisations and health experts. There is also a risk that the caravans become an essential part of the funding of DHB dental care and thereby secure long term marketing opportunities for McDonald’s.

DHBs which accept branded funding or health initiatives like this are “accomplices” in the company’s marketing plan. The dental caravans are an especially insidious form of sponsorship since they assist McDonald’s to get their advertising to very young and especially vulnerable groups and to link their products with health experts. In accepting the sponsorship, DHBs effectively endorse the company and the products it sells. DHBs are supporting McDonald’s in their quest to create brand loyalty in children from preschool on.

In the view of the Obesity Action Coalition, McDonald’s primary responsibility is to make money for its shareholders. It achieves this by selling product. All of the company’s activities have profit as the end objective. Supporting health initiatives enables the company to appear benign and socially responsible and in this instance develop and protect the very lucrative youth market.

OAC does not consider this kind of sponsorship to be appropriate. OAC also considers the promotion of healthy habits and balanced nutrition, which is the message the dental therapists promote, to be completely at odds with other advertising the company uses which encourages consumption. This conflict gives children mixed messages and dilutes the benefit of the health messages.

OAC believes the dental caravans are simply a public relations exercise. True altruism would be to provide funding without company branding.

If DHBs wish to test McDonald’s resolve to assist with dental health issues, they should ask that the caravans be cleared of any McDonald’s branding and any link with the company be deleted.

Celia Murphy

Executive Director

Obesity Action Coalition

PO Box 12115

Wellington

Published on March 2, 2005 in New Zealand news