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Woman sues McDonald's over Happy Meals
December 15th, 2010
02:04 PM ET

Woman sues McDonald's over Happy Meals

A California woman is suing McDonald's claiming the fast-food giant uses toys to market directly to young children. Monet Parham, a Sacramento, California, mother of two small children filed the lawsuit Wednesday in San Francisco along with health, nutrition and food safety advocates Center for Science in the Public Interest . CSPI is seeking court approval to proceed as a class action.

Parham, a 41-year old state employee, says her kids repeatedly ask for Happy Meals, mainly for the toys. "We have to say no to our kids so many times and McDonald's makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald's is getting into my kids' heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat."

Michael Jacobson, CSPI's executive director accused McDonald's of "one of the most insidious marketing practices–dangling a toy in front of a small child." Jacobson called the practice "unfair, deceptive and illegal' in California and many other states. "The food industry has a responsibility not to intrude into families by using sleazy marketing techniques getting kids to pester their parents."

Jacobson compared the tactics to tobacco companies marketing to kids with things like Joe Camel. "In this instance, McDonald's is worse. They are going straight at little kids. The company is using unfair techniques to persuade the kids to persuade the parents to go to McDonald's. Tobacco companies don't go after 3 year-olds. Neither does Coca Cola or Pepsi."

In 2006, fast food companies spent over $520 million on advertising and toys to market kids meals. More than $350 million of that was for toys alone. Last month, The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that requires happy meals and other fast food offerings with toys meet new nutritional standards or be removed from menus. It goes into effect next December.

McDonald's says it is proud of its Happy Meals and will vigorously defend the company's brand, its reputation and its food. "We stand on our 30-year track record of providing a fun experience for kids and families at McDonald's," said Bridget Coffing, a company spokesperson. "We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals. We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet."

This is not the first time CSPI has challenged fast food companies in court. In 2006 the organization went after Kellogg for marketing cereals loaded with sugar to children. In that case CSPI and Kellogg reached a settlement. CSPI also sued Kentucky Fried Chicken for frying its chicken in partially hydrogenated oil, which is high in trans fat. When KFC phased out the oil, CSPI dropped the lawsuit.


soundoff (1,382 Responses)
  1. Lisa

    What's next? Like Bella said, is she going to sue Toys R Us for selling toys? Learn how to put your foot down & be a parent!

    December 16, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. MM

    If parents can't tell a kid no – at kid at the age of Happy Meal, then the kid should be taken away from them because they are totally incapable of raising a child.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Brian

    I see no reason why our courts should be clogged up with stuff like this. If you have trouble saying no to your children for their own good, then perhaps you should not have had them to begin with. It is a parent’s job to look after the health and well being of their children, it is not the job of the state or federal government to mandate what McDonald’s can sell or not sell. What has happened to good parenting and personal responsibility?

    December 16, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. MM

    The courts should send all these people to parenting classes!

    December 16, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jena

    It's not OK for McDonald's to intrude into parenting but it is OK for Michelle Obama to do so?

    December 16, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. MM

    Wonder if she will have a problem saying no when they ask for drugs and alcohol!

    December 16, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. naughtydog

    I'm really disappointed with some of the comments left here. This whole marketing scheme directed towards our children to get them to "ask mom and dad" for all this crap is taking it's toll. I hope that someday people will realize that this toy with a crappy meal is just as bad as targeting tobacco or alcohol to children.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MM

      Be a parent and learn to teach your kids that they can't have everything. If you can't say no to toys how will you say no to drugs and alcohol.

      December 16, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse |
    • AfghanSoldier

      You have no backbone either it would seem! Don't have children they tend to want things! By the way, a happy meal isn't addictive like cigarettes are so your apples and oranges comparison reveals you to also be an idiot

      December 16, 2010 at 10:22 | Report abuse |
  8. chris

    let me get this straight, we are allowed to sue because successful marketing exploits bad parenting?

    December 16, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Michele

    Why is it that parents always need to "grow up and take responsibility," but companies don't? Everyone says the mother should just say, "No." The mother IS saying, "No." She's saying it over and over. She is taking responsibility. I don't think it's too much to ask that our major corportions help out a little, particularly when it affects small children. I don't undertand why we are all so protective of the rights of corporations in this country...even more protective than we are of the rights of children. If we're all rushing to the defense of McDonald's, then I think that we, as a nation, need to seriously rethink our priorities. Healthy kids should be at the top of the list. McDonald's right to sell cheap toys...at the bottom.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      the real problem is the health nuts like yourself thats ruining america

      December 16, 2010 at 09:58 | Report abuse |
    • DrEz

      It's called freedom of choice Michele. YOU may choose not to take your kids to McDonald's, but why should YOU or the government tell me that I can't should I feel FREE to do so.

      December 16, 2010 at 10:13 | Report abuse |
    • GuerillaGorilla

      As I have mentioned before there are healthy alternatives to the "classic" happy meal. So her case of it inducing her children to eat unhealthy foods is out the window. Next up, advertising targeting kids. OK, their advertising of the McRib targets adults. Their advertising of the BigMac targets sports fans. Their advertising of cheap mega-sized drinks target the thirsty. ALL marketing has a targeted gruop based on age, interest and current popular topics. If the advertising was untargeted then it would fail and the corporations would be wasting their money. Your correct that I am defending the large corporations right to advertise. You're right that I'm defending their right to put toys into a boxed meal of the parents choosing. You're wrong that I'm putting it before my childrens health. You're wrong that I'm supporting a corporation over my own children.
      McDonalds has taken HUGE steps to meet the requests and requirements of the public and FDA. They have an available healthy menu of foods that never touch the (now fairly healthy) oils that some of their food is cooked in. They have their menu's in 16 different languages for those who do not read or speak english. In some areas they even require their employees to be fluent in two different languages. McDonalds has taken things in stride and done what they can to meet the requests and demands of the public. Now they are being sued for one of their most beloved and TADEMARKED items, simply because some mother is unable to tell her children no repeatedly, and can't take the time to read a menu with PICTURES of the foods on it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get a baked chicken wrap, with broccoli and an unsweetened tea... from McDonalds.

      December 16, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse |
  10. Dave

    Wow, too lazy to keep telling your kids no so you decide to file a lawsuit. This is just as stupid as the person who sued McDonald's for there not being a warning that coffee is hot. If you think the food is unhealthy, don't buy it. Also it's not the end of the world to buy your kid a happy meal once in awhile, unless of course they are completely obese and never do anything athletic.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. eh_guy

    George Orwell had the answer for these people: 1984.

    I am not sure what the McD policy is in the States, but here in Canada, you can purchase the toys without the meal.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lady1

    This lady needs to get a grip on herself. The only thing that McDonalds needs to change about the happy meal is going from asking do you want a boy or girl toy with that to saying doing you want (insert name of first toy) or (insert name of second toy) with that? Happy meals are a great source of happiness in this craptastic world we live in. She needs to get a grip, take the stick out of her butt and just learn to say no.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Karkat Vantas

    WHY IS SHE SUING BECAUSE OF HAPPY MEAL TOYS?
    THIS IS TOO MUCH TO TAKE IN, I MEAN, WHY WOULD ANYONE SUE FOR A STUPID REASON LIKE THAT?

    SHE SHOULD TAKE HER HEAD OUT OF HER WASTE DISPOSAL AREA AND SEE HOW THE REAL WORLD WORKS.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Erin

    Start being a parent, and stop expecting the GOVERNMENT to do it for you. If YOU don't want your kids to have a Happy Meal – be the adult and tell them NO. But how DARE you try to enact legislation that prevents ME from making a differen parenting decision.

    I don't have a problem with McDonalds. We go with our kids 1 – 2 times per month.. it's a "treat" for them. And, they get a happy meal with Chicken Nuggets, Apples & Milk – there are more healthy options then the one pictured above. And then AFTER they eat their meal, they run around the play area and burn off more calories then they just consumed.. and happily take home their small trinket to play with later.

    Everything in Moderation... try it – it works.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. MM

    Wonder if I can sue McD for making me get hooked on heir McCafe? Emmmm! And what makes me can't say NO is that for every cup I get a little sticker and with four of them I can get a free cup of McCafe! I'm so hooked and just can't say NO! I'm sure I could get a class action law suit out of this one.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Z

    So, it's against the law to market something to children? Someone should take the initiative and sue every toy and video game company and demand reparations for the past 50 years of commercials and ads...

    I'm going to sue this lady the next time she goes to McDonalds...

    December 16, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. guest

    I am waiting for a lawsuit to be brought against the drug dealers

    December 16, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Ben

    So, it's OK to ban cribs for harming chilren, but we are going to allow harmful, non-nutritious garbage to be marketed as "food"? Many parents today don't know what REAL food is, and can't make good decisions for their kids, beacuse they were raised (brainwashed) by junk food as well.

    December 16, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MM

      People don't make furniture...but people can learn to cook a meal. Don't mix apples with oranges. Even if they didn't ban the cribs why would a parent take precautions and buy safety first.

      December 16, 2010 at 10:13 | Report abuse |
    • LOZ

      She doesn't want to ban the food. Just the toy. And get lots of money from the suffering "having to say no" has caused her.

      December 16, 2010 at 21:58 | Report abuse |
  19. HealthyMom

    My kids are not allowed to eat fast food. Period. They know that and so they don't ask for it. Same goes for soda. They even tell other people that they aren't allowed when offered. They will say "My mom and dad don't let us eat McDonalds/drink soda," and my kids are only 3 & 6. This lady needs to get a grip...Maybe if she actually talked to her children and gave them logical reasons why they can't have it verus the "because I said so," then she wouldn't have to keep saying no. Kids understand more than you'd think they would, you just have to take the time to explain it.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      poor deprived children..i feel sorry for them for having a health nut parent...

      December 16, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse |
  20. MM

    If you get the government to take away all the enticements, how will you teach your kids the difference between right and wrong.

    Another lazy parent who need to take some parenting class or give up her right to raise kids.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karkat Vantas

      WELL SAID.

      December 16, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse |
  21. GuerillaGorilla

    If this lawsuit goes through I'm suing Apple. Their marketing of the iPhone 4 has made me have to tell myself no so many times I lost count. They are targeting the tech savvy and the "cool" crowd with their marketing and just because I have an older HTC I'm not one of them. I used to be when the HTC was the phone to have, but now I'm just a no one with an old phone that is still capable of doing more than the iPhone 4. But because I don't have an iPhone 4, and really really want one, I have to tell myself no every time I see an iPhone 4. I shouldn't have to do this because it makes me feel bad for not having one. so if this lawsuit succeeds I'm suing Apple and using this case as a point of reference to win my case against Apple. What will I do with the money I win? Buy an iPhone 4 and download as many apps as it can handle.

    Sound stupid? So is this case.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Rick

    Why doesn't she sue the makers of Wii, Xbox, Playstation, and all of th other things that keep fat kids in front of the TV. What a bunch of BS.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. CRC

    So can I sue Toys R Us since my kids constantly want their toys? This is f-ing ridiculous. Seriously lady, grow the f up and take some repsonsibility for your pathetic ability to raise your kids.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. good dad

    I have the same problem with my kids, they don't like the food that much but want the toy. When we do go to Mcdonalds I will get them a fruit & yogurt parfait, and buy the toy for a dollar. They are happy and I just got them a toy and a treat for $2.00.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Ben

    This is just another example of Americans not taking responsibility for their own problems and expecting somebody else to fix them.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mike

    California the granolia state, what do you expect?

    December 16, 2010 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Goldi272

    I swear, some people are just never satisfied unless they have something to complain about. This woman really needs to get a life. I guess this means that Kid's meals are gonna be banned everywhere else, then, because it's not just McDonald's that give out toys with their meals. Almost any sit-down restaurant offers crayons or little wax sticks that kids can shape into things just for sheer amusement, let alone keep kids pacified & calm. I can appreciate legitimate concerns such as lack of nutrition for kids, which I have to admit, McDonald's has improved their menu with adding healthier choices as well as disclosing nutritional information so parents can make better decisions for their kids, but suing McDonald's just because this pathetic excuse for a mother has a hard time saying NO to her kids? Lady, get off your high horse and stop wasting the court's time and resources for your shortcomings. Go get some counseling for yourself; better yet, get a backbone and stop making others pay for your laziness!!!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. D

    Is this lady serious? Why doesn't she sue Nike for advertising and making her kids want to wear Nike instead of Reebok? Or how about suing Hollywood because its movies encourage violence and she doesn't approve of violence in her house. Lets sue Lamborghini because they make fast cars and I don't want my kids driving fast. This lady needs to get a life.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. MM

    Wonder how much money this woman spends on video games and other toys her kids ask her for. Does she stop in ToysRus every time the kids want another toy. People like these should not have had children.

    These are the kids who raise hell in the stores to get what they want...and they get it!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Cynic

    I'm not surprised this woman is 41 and a state employee. This generation seems to be filled with Food Nazis who would prefer that the government force everyone to do what they want them to do rather than allow people to choose for themselves. In a free society, people persuade. In an unfree society, they get government to force people to conform to their own choices and prejudices. This pathetic woman should raise her own kids and not expect the strong arm of the law to raise her kids for her. Many posters have suggested more productive ways to handle this situation besides flying to the law. Freedom is choice. You as a parent have the right to exercise choice about what your children consume. You do not have a right to strong-arm others so that they cannot exercise their freedom of choice. Government=force

    December 16, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. whatthefrijole?

    Breaking News.... Monet Parham stupid! Monet Parham retarded! BAD, misguided, self-important money-grubbing Monet Parham! BAD WOMAN!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Teresa Long-Blevins

      I object! I have a retarded child and he would NEVER sue McDonalds, and to have personal responsibility. Handicapped people ARE NOT stupid. Stupid people are in a class all by themselves.
      My child was taught to love REAL food, and when a lady asked me a few weeks ago what kinds of food he DISLIKED, I couldn't think of any. She said, surely he doesn't eat things like brussels sprouts. My kids eat anything that doesn't eat them first. When they wanted the latest fad,toy,etc-my comment is 'want in one hand and spit in the other one and see which one gets full first.'

      December 16, 2010 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
  32. newmommy

    I am now planning to sue the cereal ailes of all major food stores. Too many toys and chances to win and free DVDs with so many purchases! I still haven't gotten my DVDs or free T-Shirts!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Anna

    Wow! What a great way to retire without having to work! Sue McDonald's for being a push over, irresponsible parent. I do not believe for a second that this woman has an inch of genuine concern about the health of kids in America. If she did, she would be working for an organization that implements better nutrition practice and educates public about why McDonald's may not be the best choice. Anyone knows that the toys are intended to entice kids – it is your responsibility as a parent to not take them to McDonald's on the first place, if their health is important to you. You have to a complete moron to allow your kids whine mercilessly about the wanting to go to MD because of toys. I believe that she should not be allow to profit one red cent from this lawsuit if her only goal is to stop MD from offering toys with the Happy Meals. She experienced no damage whatsoever. Here is an idea for dumb suits that may discourage this kind of baseless litigations – He Who Looses Pays All The Legal Fees Of The Party They Are Suing. We would see if she would choose to sue should this rule be in place or would it be cheaper to say "no" to your clearly spoiled, discipline-less kids.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Bridgette

    This is the most rediculous thing I have heard of...it is such a waste of time and money...why don't the mother start being a mother and JUST SAY NO!!! or maybe get creative cook a healthy meal at home and give the kids a toy with it.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Hevace

    So McDonald's owes her money because she's a bad parent. What??

    December 16, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Starscream

    You know who else markets toys to children? Toy companies. So how long before lawsuits are filed against Fisher Price, Hasbro, Mattel, etc? And then we can finally cancel Christmas!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jade Harley

    Bad Mother! Worst Best friend!!! 😡

    December 16, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. MM

    How about feeding the kids at home. Go spend the money on cooking classes and cook a hot meal and your kids will find fast foods totally unpalatable.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. whatthefrijole?

    I'm going to sue Toys R Us, every time I take my kids in that place they want me to buy them a toy! Class action baby!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Lisa

    When I was a kid, whenver we would pass a McD's, my friends and I would scream "French fries, french fries!". My Mom would say "No" and not buy us the fries. Simple as that. It's called parenting.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Anna

    I want to sue this woman and the organization behind her because reading this article has killed several of my brain cells. She is one LAZY PARENT! No kidding Mcdonalds markets Happy Meals to kids its a "Happy Meal", hence a meal for children. If you don't want your kid to eat it or to have the toy DON'T BUY IT! Its a free country last I checked – McDonalds can advertise and cook to their hearts content and we as consumers are free to either buy or not. Its not the government's job to raise our children!!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. denise

    Are you kidding me! What is even more amazing is a Lawyer took the case.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Chris

    There would be less frivolous law suits in this country if the people who file these ridiculous suits would have to pay court costs for both sides when they lose.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. MM

    She must be obese and need money for a lap band surgery.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. W

    Shocker. We live in a country where everything is always some one elses fault. Civil suits are complete crap 90% of the time. This lady needs to learn how to be a parent and regulate her kids a little better. No should pretty much end any discussion about anything with a child. It did when I was a kid, you ask and they say no then its over. If I kept it up discipline was swift and thorough. STOP TRYING TO GET EVERYONE ELSE TO RAISE YOUR KIDS PEOPLE!!!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. M@

    Ok I agree and disagree with this article. I think it is noble that CSPI is working to make these fast food companies more accountable for how they market their goods to our children. If no one questions their actions, they are allowed to do whatever they want to us. On the other hand, I think this lawsuit is kind of ridiculous. McDonald’s is not the only restaurant in the world and I think the majority of adults in the U.S. realize that the food they serve there is not nutritionally valuable. In the article, a representative for the McDonald’s corporation even stated, “We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals. We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet."

    DING DING DING!

    Even McDonald’s is saying that kids should not be eating this junk every day and it is the responsibility of the parents to dictate what their kids should be eating.

    So yeah it’s a pain when your kid begs for a happy meal when you are at McDonalds. If you don’t want to hear them complain and you don’t want for them to be (or end up) morbidly obese, take them home and cook them dinner.

    Good Grief!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Lady~Dragon

    You've GOT to be kidding!!! Did I just read this correctly??? Is this moron actually suing McDonald's because she can't say "no" to her kids??!!

    Honey you've got more serious problems than Happy Meal Toys and fast food....I guarantee it. The lawyer representing her is just as much of an nimrod.........and he's educated!! I'm offended that he would even consider wasting the taxpayers time and money with such a ridiculous lawsuit.

    You want to help this woman?...send her to boot camp parenting classes where they can kick her in the ass every time she entertains such idiotic notions!!

    In my house "no" means "NO"....period! If they want to know why.......tough! As a parent, I reserve the right to not have to give an explanation for my reasoning..........in other words, "BECAUSE I SAID NO!" The food being unhealthy is another matter entirely.

    .....and on top of everything else, what parenting skills are we imparting to our children, boys & girls??

    Some people should not be allowed to breed.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Vriska Serket

    ooooooooh myyyyyyyy goooooooog! Really?!?!?!?!

    Why is she being so stuuuuuuuupid?! It's just a meal!!!!!!!!

    December 16, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Adam

    Perish the thought of a parent doing some actual parenting. If you don't like it, THEN DON'T LET YOUR KIDS EAT AT MCDONALD'S. I could probably count the number of times we ate at McDonald's when I was young on one hand...

    December 16, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. TJs

    I wish they had shown her picture...I would bet money she is fat.

    December 16, 2010 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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