“Back in the days when we first got a company airplane, we used to spot good locations for McDonald’s stores by flying over a community and looking for schools. Now we use a helicopter, and it’s ideal.”
-Ray Kroc, McDonald’s Corporation founder
Zoning restaurants near schools has made it easy for kids to frequent McDonald’s at times when parents have the least control over where their children eat. The proximity is also an opportunity to market to children regardless of whether their parents approve of their eating fast food. Think about each Golden Arches and Ronald’s Playground as a giant billboard – that’s the impact they have on those who pass by…or children glancing out from a classroom window.
But what’s good for the corporation’s bottom line is quite the opposite for the public’s waist line.
A 2009 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that ninth graders whose schools were within a block of fast food were more likely to be obese than students whose schools were further away.
McDonald’s practice of building restaurants at the doorstep of schools is widespread and continues to spur competitors to follow suit. In Chicago, one of the chain’s biggest markets, Corporate Accountability International found that more than 90 percent of the city’s McDonald’s were located within walking distance of a school.
Another study has found the clustering of McDonald’s and other fast food chains in neighborhoods with schools to be disproportionately high when compared to other neighborhoods.
If proximity to schools can contribute significantly to obesity rates, you can imagine what happens when McDonald’s and other fast food is sold in schools.
McDonald’s pioneered that practice too. The first McDonald’s to open inside a high school opened in 1976 in Benton, Arkansas. Today, nearly a quarter of the nation’s high schools sell branded fast food.