Last week, 550 doctors signed and published an open letter to McDonalds requesting that the fast food giant “fire” Ronald McDonald and stop using cartoon advertising, toy giveaways and other marketing techniques blatantly targeted at children.  The organization Corporate Accountability International spearheaded the campaign, and it’s just one of their many campaigns to improve public health and encourage ethical business around the world. I grew up with Ronald & the gang (I think they’ve pretty much retired the gang… remember McBurglar? Grimace? Weird…) and, according to my mother, I used to beg to visit McDonalds only to push my nuggets around and leave still hungry. So if it wasn’t the food, what drove me to nag my mother for McDonalds?

According to 550 doctors, it’s not a coincidence your kids suddenly get “hungry” when you drive past the golden arches.  It’s all thanks to one of the world’s largest marketing budgets.

Your kid’s diet is your responsibility, you say? I agree.  But when 1 in 2 Americans is predicted to be obese by 2020, isn’t blaming parents a case of making a molehill out of a mountain?

Here’s how the 550 doctors explain McDonald’s responsibility in the obesity crisis:

McDonald’s and industry front groups have refused to address the dangerous toll that fast food and predatory marketing is taking on our kids. While acknowledging that fast food is unhealthy, you pin responsibility for the epidemic of diet related disease on a breakdown in parental responsibility.

As health professionals, we know that parents exercising responsibility for their children’s diets and physical activity is vital. We also know – and the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity agrees – that no authoritative data indicate a breakdown in parental responsibility.

Obesity and disease levels among kids are rising even though parents continue to parent and, as researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conclude, kids continue to exercise at rates similar to those of two decades ago. So what has changed?

What has changed is the food children eat and the amount of marketing they are bombarded with. Even when parents resist the “nag effect” cultivated by McDonald’s to access the $40 – 50 billion in annual purchases that children under 12 control, advertising creates brand loyalties that persist into adulthood.

I believe I control my children’s diet and health to a large extent.  But when 550 doctors speak, I’m inclined to listen.

Read the full letter and sign the petition to end marketing to children by McDonalds.