Earlier this year, we shared the good news that the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chapter removed McDonald’s as a gold sponsor this year (while a great development, several other state-level AND chapters still have the fast food giant as a sponsor).
Earlier this week, Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray uncovered McDonald’s latest groan-worthy tactic: a McDonald’s infomercial — disguised as a documentary — titled “540 Meals,” targeted to middle and high school students (update: since Elias Siegel’s post was published, the “540 Meals” trailer has been taken down).
- “540 Meals: Choices Make the Difference documents an experiment conducted in 2013-14 by John Cisna, an Iowa high school science teacher, who sought to discredit Super Size Me by eating nothing but McDonald’s for 90 days and losing weight in the process. He says in the film that “this was all generated by the kids [his students],” but he admits in his self-published book, My McDonald’s Diet: How I Lost 37 Pounds in 90 Days and Became a Viral Media Sensation, that he actually hatched the plan himself after eating dinner with a friend (who happens to be a McDonald’s franchisee).”
- “Whatever the pedagogical purpose of the experiment, Cisna seems to have understood from the outset that his story would be catnip to both news outlets and McDonald’s. His franchisee friend supplied all of his McDonald’s food for free, and Cisna filmed his own amateur documentary about the experience which he posted on YouTube as: “Manages To Lose Weight And Lower Cholesterol With 90-DAY MC DONALD’S DIET.”
- “McDonald’s has since officially retained Cisna as its paid brand ambassador and he now travels around the country to promote the fast food chain to middle and high schoolers, as well as dietetic students.”
- “McDonald’s has created an official Teachers Discussion Guide for use with the film, at least half of which is devoted to discrediting Super Size Me. The corporation also prepared a form letter to be sent out to schools by registered dietitians acting as paid McDonald’s “Nutrition Consultants.”
- “During the 90-day experiment, Cisna refers to McDonald’s as his “grocery store,” implying that it offers a wide array of healthful foods, and he tells viewers frequently that his students were consistently tracking 15 nutrients. But 540 Meals never informs students that Cisna’s regimen was a far cry from the generally accepted definition of a healthful diet, i.e., one rich in whole grains and containing five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. (French fries don’t count.)”
- “Finally, of course, there’s the troubling prospect of aggressive McDonald’s brand promotion infiltrating middle and high schools under the guise of “health education.” Branding expert Abe Sauer, the only other person to have written about 540 Meals to date, summed it up well: “[It sounds] suspiciously like McDonald’s is looking for an edu-washed marketing campaign to get its brand in front of impressionable young minds with a tacit endorsement from authority figures.”
It’s particularly galling to see the dietitian credential be collateral damage in this predatory marketing scheme.