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McDonald’s Ending Promotion on Jackets of Children’s Report Cards


Stuart Elliott

The New York Times
January 18, 2008

McDonald’s has decided to stop sponsoring Happy Meals as rewards for children with good grades and attendance records in elementary schools in Seminole County, Fla.

The “food prize” program, as it was called, for students of the Seminole County Public Schools in kindergarten through fifth grade was sponsored by the owners of the McDonald’s restaurants in Seminole County, in central Florida northeast of Orlando. The decision to end the promotions for the program, appearing on children’s report-card jackets, came from executives at McDonald’s USA, part of the McDonald’s Corporation, the world’s largest fast-food business.

The sponsorship, between the restaurant owners and the Seminole County school board, drew national and international attention amid an outcry over childhood obesity and junk food diets because a fast-food chain was tying its products to academic performance. It also generated controversy because McDonald’s USA had agreed to curb its advertising to children in schools.

The decision was made “because we believe the focus should be on the importance of a good education,” William Whitman, senior director for communications and public affairs at McDonald’s USA in Oak Brook, Ill., said Thursday. “McDonald’s, not the school district, will cover the cost to reprint the report-card jackets,” he added, and “remove our trademarks.”

The reward program, called Made the Grade, will continue, Mr. Whitman said, because the local restaurant owners agreed in September that it would run through the current school year.

The sponsorship became known last month when a parent complained about it to an activist organization, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The parent, Susan Pagan, was upset about the promotion on her daughter’s report-card jacket. The jacket showed Ronald McDonald, the company’s mascot for children; its Golden Arches logo; and Happy Meal menu items like Chicken McNuggets.

“Check your grades,” the jacket advised. “Reward yourself with a Happy Meal from McDonald’s.”

The local McDonald’s restaurants replaced Pizza Hut as a sponsor of the incentive program. Pizza Hut had sponsored a similar promotion for a decade, as part of a national campaign to encourage children to read.

Because of the attention the complaint drew, the school district said last month that it would review the appropriateness of the jackets in the spring when making plans for the 2008-9 year.

But when McDonald’s USA offered to reprint the report-card jackets immediately, Beverly Perrault, executive director for elementary education, said, the district accepted the offer.

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said Thursday that she was pleased with the end of the report-card advertising.

“In the absence of needed government regulation to protect schoolchildren from predatory companies like McDonald’s,” she added, “the burden is on parents to be vigilant about exploitative marketing aimed at children.”


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