Tuesday, September 07, 2010

McDonald's and the Ottawa District School Board teach kids that voluntary food industry regulation is useless.

(Yup, that's Ronald McDonald's signature up there)

So our fitness director Kelly's littlest boy is starting junior kindergarten this year.

As part of his orientation he had to attend a, "School Bus Safety Awareness Day". Apparently school bus safety is something that requires a special teaching program. Somehow kids these days need detailed schooling, special events even, to learn the incredibly complicated concepts of, "don't stand up while the bus is moving", "line up and don't push other kids when getting on or off", and "make sure you have your stuff with you before you leave the bus".

The program, a joint venture between the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Boards, according to its home page, includes as part of the "learning", a bus safety certificate, colouring books and refreshments all provided by the program's sponsor - McDonald's.

According to Kelly the refreshments were, "some sort of orange flavour crystal drink in Mc. D cups", along with, "choco chip Quaker granola bars". The kids also received coupons for free soft serve ice cream at McDonald's and McDonald's colouring books and place mats.

McDonald's of course is a proud founding signatory of the voluntary, industry created, Canadian Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

According to the initiative,

"The food and beverage industry in Canada is committed to advertising and marketing products to Canadian children in a responsible way to help prepare them to make wise decisions about healthy dietary choices and healthy lifestyles . We recognize that the special nature and needs of children requires particular care and diligence on the part of advertisers."
I suppose the special nature and needs of children requires extra diligence for advertisers to ply 4 year olds with fruit drinks, chocolate granola bars, free ice cream and pre-schooler swag.

But wait, doesn't the advertising initiative, an initiative for which McDonald's was a founding sponsor, explicitly ban the advertisement of food or beverage products in elementary schools?
"Participating companies will remain committed to adhering to standards established by schools individually and by school boards overall. Furthermore, participants will commit to not advertising food or beverage products in elementary schools."
I guess the answer is, "sort of". I say sort of because there's a footnote to that edict that states they can do whatever they want so long as the program's "educational",
"This limitation will not apply to displays of food and beverage products, charitable /not-for-profit activities including fundraising, public service messaging and educational programs."
That sure is a useful initiative.

Gee thanks Ottawa School Boards. Brilliant job. Thrilling that you're giving out food garbage along with coupons for free ice cream and McDonald's colouring books to 4 year olds - and for such an important educational cause. I mean without School Bus Safety Awareness day, I doubt any kid would ever figure out how to sit safely in their seat on a yellow school bus. It's a wonder any of we grown ups made it.

[Hat tip to BMI's fitness director Kelly DeBruyn whose son I'm sure benefited tremendously from what sounds like an incredibly important program]

UPDATE Sept. 9th, 2010: Received a phone call today from the school board. Details likely part of future post but they wanted me to inform readers that the program's voluntary and that kids aren't there all day - it's taught drop-in style

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  1. Sally Grim7:06 am

    The programme really is a waste of money and obvious industry ploy. While it could be argued that some young kids may need some extra reminders about 'bus safety', that would require just someone to talk to them, not a day long prgramme that lasts long enough to require freshments.
    I remember being taken by my school onto the local length of main road as a 6 year old, wearing a flourescent safety jacket, and taught to cross roads safely. I had of course just been running blindly across them before as my parents, of course, never thought to teach me to cross a road without getting hit. This was just a waste of a day of lessons. Needless to say I was born in the 90's.

  2. Who is responsible for this? Heads should roll. McDonalds like tobbacco products, should be allowed to even advertise near kids schools.

  3. Way to sabotage all those healthy eating lessons they got at home. Are parents asked whether they want their children involved in this "learning experience"? They should be.

  4. Anonymous4:53 pm

    ottawa-carleton school board is a registered charity. So it's possible that McDs gets to pay less tax by doing this corporate sponsorship, if the school board has given them a charity receipt for the swag.

    If the school board charity releases a report, this could be checked.

  5. Anonymous12:13 pm

    Why don't you put up the money to sponsor this event next year if you're so against McDonald's doing so?

  6. Anonymous1:49 pm

    I agree with the anonymous. "Why don't you put up the money to sponsor this event next year if you're so against McDonald's doing so?"
    McDonald's has been around forever--I was born in the 70's so I've seen all the commercials, been to birthday parties at the "Kaboose" and sure I'll have a big mac occasionally. My parents and teachers taught us about healthy eating and moderation. I don't have a weight problem or any health issues.
    If you make good food choices, and teach your kids to make good choices then it really shouldn't matter what McDonald's does.
    What the Ottawa-Carleton board needs to do is implement a better Physical Education Program!

  7. When I received the invitation email/poster from my kids' school, I was flabbergasted! I can't believe the school boards are accepting sponsorship from McDonald's for this activity. I don't think the activity itself is a complete waste of time, as it may help some anxious kids to familiarize themselves with the school bus before the first day of school. However, to be bombarded by McDonald's advertising and products that day, at the vulnerable age of 4, is wrong. This is just another example of McDonald's doing whatever it can to reel in another generation of kids! Look around you, our current generation's poor state of health is due in large part to junk food. We are dealing with an epidemic of obesity, leading to diabetes, heart disease and a host of other diseases. This is due in large part to the abundance of cheap, easily accessible junk food, which McDonald's actively promotes on a daily basis. Are 4-year-olds capable of making informed decisions? NO! They are easily influenced and this type of activity drills in the message that McDonald's is the "good guy". This forms the child's schema of McDonald's and can definitely influence their attitude towards fast food for years to come (and McDonald's knows this all too well!). We, as parents, have the responsibility of educating our children and leading by example. The school boards also have an important role to play, as they spend more time with our children than we do as parents. Should this activity be cancelled? No. Should Yoni Freedhoff or BMI pay for it? No. Should we boycott it on principle? Maybe. I'll leave that up to the parents out there. As for myself, I think I'll pass.

    Marc L.
    Father of 4