At McDonald’s annual stakeholders meeting last week, the company’s top executive received a stern rebuke from an unlikely critic: nine-year-old Hannah Robertson from British Columbia. “It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time,” Hannah told the fast food chain’s CEO Don Thompson. “Mr. Thompson, don’t you want kids to be healthy so they can live a long and happy life?”
During the question-and-answer session, Hannah calmly stepped up to the podium to address the head of the fast food chain. “There are things in life that aren’t fair — like when your pet dies,” Hannah explained. “I don’t think it’s fair when big companies try to trick kids into eating food that isn’t good for them by using toys and cartoon characters. It isn’t fair that so many kids my age and younger who are getting really sick with diseases like diabetes and obesity.”
Hannah flew in from Canada to attend McDonald’s meeting with her mother, Kia Robertson, who is a nutrition blogger and activist. In her prepared remarks, the fourth grader explained that her mother has helped teach her that eating healthier foods can be “fun” and “yummy,” and they work on cooking videos together to inspire other kids to eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies. She pointed out that kids who don’t have parents who can teach them about nutrition could end up believing that McDonald’s is a healthy option for them.
Thompson told Hannah — whose favorite food is Brussels sprouts — that he was glad she liked to eat fruits and vegetables. “We don’t sell junk food, Hannah,” the CEO said, pointing out that McDonald’s offers healthy options like apple slices and salads.
But Hannah and her mother weren’t impressed with Thompson’s response to her question. “I don’t think he answered it very well, because he just kept saying the same things over and over again like, ‘We don’t market to kids and we don’t sell junk food,'” Hannah told ABC News. Her mother added that it seemed like the McDonald’s executive was dodging Hannah’s question to pretend that his company’s brand is healthier than it actually is.
Indeed, McDonald’s has recently attempted to position itself as a chain that provides healthier options, like wraps and salads — even though the nutritional content of its menu has hardly improved at all. That’s part of a larger trend in the fast food industry. In order to address concerns about the nation’s ongoing obesity epidemic, restaurants like Panda Express, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s all attempt to tell customers like Hannah that they offer some “healthy” fare without actually changing much about their products.
Fast food companies do use cartoon characters and ad spots on children’s programs to market their products to kids, particularly children of color. Even though Hannah was nervous to get up and speak at the meeting, she said she hoped to help provide a voice for all of those children. “I wanted to speak for all those kids and parents who didn’t have the ability to go ahead and speak to the head people of McDonald’s,” the nine-year-old explained.