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