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McDonald’s draws heat for messaging to school kids

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McDonald’s is being shamed on the internet for trying to slip an advertising message into a video the chain is providing free to schools as an aid for teaching good eating habits.

The video, “540 Meals: Choices Make the Difference,” recounts an experiment that Iowa teacher John Cisna conducted with a high school science class. Cisna proposed that he eat solely at McDonald’s for 540 straight meals, or 180 consecutive days. The theory was that he would be no worse off from eating at the fast-food chain if he selected carefully from the menu.

Cisna tried everything on the menu, but in portions that kept him below 2,000 calories per day.

He ended up losing 60 pounds, a process Cisna detailed in a self-published book, and was retained by McDonald’s as a “brand ambassador.”

Cisna’s experience is covered in the 20-minute “540 Meals” video, which McDonald’s has distributed to an undisclosed number of schools.

“It’s not where you eat, it’s what you eat,” Cisna says in the film.

The video “promotes the McDonald’s brand so aggressively, it can hardly be called “stealth” marketing. Instead, it’s a veritable infomercial for the beleaguered fast food chain,” wrote Bettina Elias Siegel in her blog devoted to child nutrition, “The Lunch Tray.”

She reported, “Students are left with the vague but reassuring message that ‘choice and balance,’ along with a 45-minute walk (which might burn off about 1/5 of a Big Mac) will allow them to eat whatever they want at McDonald’s on a regular basis.”

The online shaming comes as teachers’ groups are pressing McDonald’s to end McTeachers Night, where educators are invited to work at the service counters of local units as part of a fund-raising effort. The theory is that students and parents will come to see the teachers in action. A portion of revenues is channeled to local charities.

A coalition of teachers’ unions has asked McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook to discontinue McTeachers Nights, saying the events are harmful to children’s health.

Unions have been bashing McDonald’s on a number of points as part of a publicity campaign to foster the unionization of employees.

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