McDonald's CEO Responds to 9-Year-Old Girl Who Claims Kids Are Being Tricked

McDonald's CEO Don Thompson scolded by 9-year old Canadian girl.

ByABC News
May 24, 2013, 9:13 AM

May 24, 2013 — -- Don Thompson, CEO of McDonald's Corp., found himself on the grill after a 9-year-old girl accused the fast food giant of trying to "trick kids into eating food that isn't good for them."

Hannah Robertson, 9, flew in with her mom from Kelowna, British Columbia, to attend McDonald's annual shareholder meeting Thursday in Oak Brook, Ill., the company's headquarters.

"Something that I don't think is fair is when big companies try to trick kids into eating food that isn't good for them by using toys and cartoon characters," Robertson read during the question and answer part of the meeting. "If parents haven't taught their kids about healthy eating then the kids probably believe that junk food is good for them because it might taste good."

Her mother, Kia, attended the meeting as a member of advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, headquartered in Boston and with offices around the world. Kia Robertson, 36, started "Today I Ate a Rainbow" in 2009, described as an "interactive nutritional game," and is a nutrition blogger.

"It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time," Robertson, who is in the fourth grade, went on to say. "I make cooking videos with my mom that show kids that eating healthy can be fun and yummy. We teach them that eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies makes kids healthier, smarter and happier because that is the truth."

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Thompson thanked her for her question but also refuted Hannah's accusations after her closing question, "Mr. Thompson, don't you want kids to be healthy so they can live a long and happy life?"

"First off, we don't sell junk food, Hannah," Thompson said. "My kids also eat McDonald's. When they were about your size, to my son who is with us today, who was a little bit bigger, he was a football player, and also they cook with me at home. I love to cook. We cook a lot of fruits and veggies at home."

Thompson pointed out that McDonald's serves fruits and vegetables, including apples in its Happy Meals and salads for $1, and is hoping to "sell even more".

A spokeswoman for McDonald's declined to elaborate to ABC News on Thompson's response to the girl.

Juliana Shulman, senior organizer at Corporate Accountability International, which started about 35 years ago, said Kia Robertson started working with the organization earlier this month for its campaign, "Moms Are Not Lovin' It" just before Mothers' Day. The campaign aimed to stop what it called McDonald's "predatory marketing to kids."

"They were really excited to partner with us and come with us to the shareholders' meeting yesterday," Shulman said of the Robertsons, adding that they returned home to Canada early on Friday.

Hannah's mom broached the issue of childhood obesity in her question to Thompson.

"As a corporation you might not "have to" think about the effects of your marketing...but as parents and grandparents there must be a part of you that knows it's just not right," Kia Robertson said to Thompson at the meeting. "You are a leader in your industry, so you know very well that the fast food industry is changing - in order to keep up maybe it's time for some genuine change at McDonald's.

"CEO Thompson, don't you think a good place to start would be to leave our children alone and let us parents decide what's best for them?" she asked.

Shulman said her organization has 100,000 members and works with tens of thousands of health professionals as part of its campaign to help families eat healthier. The organization also brought mothers representing communities of color to the shareholder meeting, hoping to stop McDonald's from targeting them.

"Yesterday was a unique chance to bring together these key constituencies who have concerns," Shulman said.

Shulman said Corporate Accountability International is not a shareholder of McDonald's. Some members of the organization own one share of the company and lent out their proxies.

"Our main goal is to protect people from irresponsible and dangerous actions around the world," Shulman said, advocating for actions against Nestle, General Electric, and Philip Morris.

Shulman said the organization's longest-running campaign is challenging big tobacco.