(Don't) Send in the Clown

Imagine you are on a mission to make our nation's children healthier. You decide that your cause requires a spokesperson, a role model who can set an example for kids. You list all of the available candidates, then methodically eliminate names until only one person remains. You pick…

Ronald McDonald.

Sound implausible? Not to the dairy industry, which has chosen the painted-face patron of clogged arteries for the latest entry in its “Got Milk?” campaign. Mr. McDonald sported a milk mustache in the October issues of Family Fun, Parenting, Better Homes and Gardens, Sports Illustrated for Kids and People in Espanol.

According to a press release from Dairy Management Inc., the ad's goal is to teach moms and kids about the importance of drinking milk. The release claims that more than half of all children ages 6 to 11 fail to meet current calcium recommendations.

Now, some might argue (vegans, for example) that no good can come from a glass of milk. Personally, I'm happy to see kids drink anything other than soft drinks packed with enough sugar and caffeine to give a lethargic elephant insomnia. So maybe the print ads will help kids. But Ronald McDonald? Why?

The press release offers this explanation: “Universally recognized and beloved by all, Ronald enjoys helping kids by talking with them about ecology, problem solving, self-esteem, fitness, character building and now drinking milk.”

For the record, I don't like Ronald McDonald, which pretty much refutes the “beloved by all” claim. As for talking to kids about fitness, that's great. Unfortunately, he also talks to kids about how fun it is to stuff yourself with greasy, salty food. Makes him a bit of a hypocrite, don't you think?

In my opinion, Ronald (who, quite hilariously, is actually quoted in the press release) is not a suitable spokesperson for healthy living. Neither are his “friends,” although the press release argues otherwise: “Birdie, Hamburglar and the Fry Guys all love milk and Grimace can't live without milk shakes!” Wonderful.

Let's assume for a moment that McDonald's milk shakes are a nutritious source of calcium. Have you ever tried to drink one? The force required to suck the thick sludge up a straw is enough to trigger an aneurysm. Besides, take a good look at Grimace. He's hopelessly obese. Plus he's purple. That can't be good.

To be fair, I'm willing to concede that Hamburglar seems athletic. He has to be, always on the run with stolen hamburgers. Then again, he constantly gets caught, so maybe he isn't in such good shape after all. I guess a steady diet of McDonald's delicacies has slowed him down.

Although I found the press release amusing, I also found it unsettling, particularly this quote from RJ Milano, senior vice president of McDonald's Marketing USA: “Caring for kids has always been Ronald's number one goal.” I would counter that his top goal is pitching fast food to kids. Sorry, that's not laudable.

There is no denying that children must be encouraged to lead healthier lives. But surely this encouragement shouldn't come from a corporate clown. Really, what's McDonald's true priority: profit or kids' well-being?

I don't want youngsters to look up to Ronald for fitness advice. If you agree, then give children real role models. Send your trainers and nutritionists into schools to talk about proper eating and exercise. And stop kids from following in the oversized footsteps of an unhealthy clown.

Best regards,

Jerry Janda