Marc Santora :
(© The New Yorrk Times, November 22, 2002) :
Obesity in America: 2 Overweight Girls Sue McDonald's
NEW YORK Jazlyn Bradley loved her McDonald's Super Sized.
A McMuffin in the morning and the Big Mac meal with an apple
pie in the evening was standard operating procedure.
Ashley Pelman was more of a Happy Meal girl. She liked the
prizes. Bradley is 19 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall (1.6 meters)
and 270 pounds (122 kilograms). Pelman, 14, is 4 foot 10 and
Now, the two young women are suing the McDonald's Corp. and
the two Bronx, New York., franchises they frequented for
damages related to their obesity.
On Wednesday, a judge in U.S. District Court in Manhattan heard
a motion to dismiss the case presented by lawyers for
The judge, Robert Sweet, has not ruled on the motion, and the
case has yet to reach trial. But the idea of suing McDonald's, and
fast food companies in general, for health problems like obesity
and diabetes that may stem from the consumption of their products
has been an issue of great concern for the industry for months
McDonald's and restaurant industry officials say the women's
lawsuit is the first to find its way into a courtroom.
"Within the industry, it has gotten everyone's attention," said
Steven Anderson, the president of the National Restaurant
Association, which represents 858,000 businesses across the
country, from small cafés to large chains like McDonald's. He said
that while his membership is concerned about such lawsuits, the
organization finds them frivolous.
At the heart of the lawsuit brought by Pelman and Bradley is
whether McDonald's is responsible for their obesity because it did
not provide the necessary information about the health risks
associated with its meals.
If their lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, makes it to trial with the suit, he
hopes to turn it into a class action on behalf of all New York
children under the age of 18 who claim health problems they say
resulted from eating at McDonald's.
The company's lawyers argued on Wednesday that the case did
not even warrant the court's attention, saying the matter was really
about common sense and individual responsibility.
"Every responsible person understands what is in products such as
hamburgers and fries, as well as the consequences to one's
waistline, and potentially to one's health, of excessively eating
those foods over a prolonged period of time," the lawyers wrote in
their motion to have the case dismissed.
Saying this knowledge has been well known for generations, they
quoted Benjamin Franklin ("To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals")
and Henry David Thoreau ("There is a difference between eating
and drinking for strength and for mere gluttony").
But Hirsch said the chain's billion-dollar advertising campaign
encourages children to find their inner glutton. "Young individuals
are not in a position to make a choice after the onslaught of
advertising and promotions," Hirsch said in an interview.
Walt Riker, a spokesman for McDonald's, denied that
McDonald's makes children a target of its advertising. "No one
cares more about kids than McDonald's," he said.
Neither side argues with the fact that America's waistline is
expanding, at a time when a "small" size is a rarity on coffee shop
or fast food menus. According to a study conducted last year by
the surgeon general, 61 percent of Americans are overweight and
14 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 are overweight - a figure
that has tripled over the last two decades.
Defenders of the fast food industry point to changes in lifestyle that
have made Americans more sedentary, while Hirsch and others
say the problem has more to do with what he called the "supersize
culture" of the fast food industry.
Bradley's order of a Big Mac with Super Size fries and Super Size
Coke contains 1,600 calories. According to the U.S. Department
of Agriculture's dietary guidelines in 2000, the recommended total
daily allowance for older children, including teenage girls, is 2,200
Bradley's father, Israel, said he never saw anything in the
McDonald's restaurants he visited providing information about the
ingredients in the food, according to court documents. "I always
believed McDonald's was healthy for my children," he said in an
Riker said McDonald's makes nutritional information available in a
variety of ways, including brochures and posters and on its Web
On a visit on Wednesday to the McDonald's on Bruckner
Boulevard in the Bronx, one of those named in the lawsuit, the
listing of ingredients in the food could not be found at all.
But patrons did not seem concerned as they ate Big N' Tasty
Burgers washed down with Super Size Cokes. Most said they
found the lawsuit absurd.