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Ronald with kids

In 1963, the McDonald’s Corporation unveiled a clown with hamburger bun-shaped shoes and a food tray hat that has since profoundly shaped advertising, eating habits, and the global food system.

Never before had a food corporation so sharply focused its marketing beyond (and around) those with the purse on those with the greatest pull on the purse strings. The strategy was simple and ingenious: build brand loyalty among children and you will have customers for life.

Today, there is scarcely a child who doesn’t recognize Ronald McDonald nor a parent who hasn’t been nagged to visit the Golden Arches. The use of the iconic clown has propelled McDonald’s growth into an international fast food juggernaut.

But success has come at the expense of our children’s health. Since the inception of Ronald McDonald, obesity rates have more than tripled among American children and the prevalence of diet-related conditions like type 2 diabetes has skyrocketed.

Click on the links to the right to learn how Ronald has become not only the face of, but the engine behind, the health epidemic. Find out about the clown’s pioneering efforts to market unhealthy food to kids, disguise marketing as charity, and outflank the most well-intentioned parents. There are also new findings about American attitudes toward the “hamburger-happy” clown.

In all, find out why it’s time the huckstering was reserved for talent night at the retirement home. If Ronald continues at the job he’s been doing, the joke will be on the health of future generations.

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