Monthly Archives: October 2015

How McDonald’s is using schools to try to change what kids eat

By Roberto A. Ferdman

FILE - This Nov. 8, 2010 file photo shows a Happy Meal at a McDonald's restaurant in San Francisco, Ca. McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast-food companies are being sued in Chile for violating the country's new law against including toys with children's meals. The law took effect in July 2012 and its author, Sen. Guido Gerardi, filed suit Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, accusing the companies of knowingly endangering the health of children by marketing kids' meals with toys. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

A “Happy Meal” at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Francisco (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Two years ago, a 280-pound teacher in Iowa decided he would eat only food from McDonald’s for six months. But unlike in the infamous documentary “Super Size Me,” the goal wasn’t to see how much weight he would gain. It was to see how much he could lose.

For 540 straight meals, John Cisna says he kept his promise — a diet consisting of only McDonald’s, adhering to certain calorie limits, and a routine marked by regular exercise. Half a year later, he emerged 56 pounds slimmer.

His story, which he first chronicled on YouTube, landed him appearances on major television networks. Ultimately, it led to him being hired by McDonald’s as a “brand ambassador,” just as Subway had done with Jared Fogle until the sandwich chain’s arrangement ended badly this year. And he now travels to pitch the fast food company to auditoriums of students around the country.

Cisna’s story has prompted a lively debate about whether it is appropriate for McDonald’s to use schools as a way to teach kids about healthy eating habits. Nutrition experts — as well as some teachers and parents — also question whether schools, which are letting the fast food company through their doors to market to kids, are allowing themselves to be co-opted.

Many McDonald’s restaurants provide financial support to underfunded educators and parent-teacher groups. At the same time, McDonald’s features Cisna in a 20-minute documentary it promotes to schools, along with lesson plans and guest speakers, through its nationwide network of franchisees.

Nutrition experts say the arrangement in an educational environment — at a time of intense concern about youth obesity — ends up sending a dangerous message about what makes for healthy eating to kids in …read more


One chart captures why China’s letting families have more kids

By Ana Swanson

Max Roser, Our World in Data

China announced today that it will end its “one-child policy,” the radical measure that has barred many Chinese families from having multiple children since 1980. All couples will be permitted to have two children, as the country seeks to subdue the growing problem of a rapidly aging population and potential labor shortages.

The rule change marks another turn in the dramatic history of China’s population. As the chart below shows, from Max Roser’s Our World in Data, China’s birth rate and death rate have swung wildly due to natural disasters, a man-made famine, economic development and, of course, the one-child policy.

Birth and death rate per 1,000 people. Max Roser, Our World in Data

In his early years as China’s leader, Mao Zedong was actually in favor of people having lots of babies, to provide soldiers for its army and workers for its factory. “Of all the things in the world, people are the most precious,” Mao wrote in 1949, quoting a traditional saying.

But Mao didn’t hold this attitude for long. As China added 100 million people to its population through the 1950s, more and more officials began to advocate birth control. Leaders first instructed China’s Women’s Federation to start promoting birth control in 1953 and lifted bans on contraception and abortion in 1954. In the early 1960s, China introduced a variety of mostly voluntary birth control policies, according to Pieter Bottelier, a China expert and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In 1975, the government told people to have “one child at best and two at most.” The one-child policy wasn’t introduced until 1980, by which time China’s birth rate had actually already begun to drop.

The biggest drop in China’s birth rate was due not to birth control, …read more