McDonald's Blamed For Making Teens Fat

ByABC News
November 26, 2002, 4:36 PM

Nov. 26 -- Fifteen-year-old Gregory Rhymes used to eat a burger, fries and shake at McDonald's every day, sometimes several times a day. Now he weighs 400 pounds, has diabetes and blames McDonald's.

So does Ruth Rhymes, his mother.

"I had no idea that he was destroying his self," his mother said. "I had no idea."

His lawyer believes he has a serious case.

"They have a marketing strategy," said Samuel Hirsch, their attorney. "They know how to ensnare a child who's already 9 years old. And then he's 11, sometimes he'll visit McDonald's on his own with his own pocket money."

Hirsch represents Gregory and seven other children from New York City. He says McDonald's lures young people with toys and playgrounds, without saying how unhealthy the food is.

A 'Baseless' Lawsuit?

McDonald's says the suit is "baseless" and "makes no sense." The company isn't the only party heaping scorn on the suit. Many wonder how someone can not know that fast food is fattening, and they question why parents aren't watching what their children eat.

The attorneys behind the lawsuit point out that the children in the case come from families where the parents may not have the time or the education to make proper dietary decisions, and they say the children shouldn't be punished because of it.

"Warnings are designed for people who might not know a lot of things or who might be forgetful or impulsive," said John Banzhaf of the George Washington University Law School. "That's why we have warnings on hair dryers about not using them in the bathtub."

"I think these types of lawsuits give the term frivolous a bad name," said Steven C. Anderson, president of the National Restaurant Association. "And I think the idea of everyone being a victim and wanting to blame someone else for their difficulties really is the basis for this lawsuit and I think it's patently absurd."

Whether or not McDonald's is to blame, childhood obesity is definitely a growing problem. It has tripled over the last two decades. Obesity-related diabetes among children has risen, as well. Obesity now results in $117 billion in health care costs.