Happy Meals are again under attack, this time in court.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against McDonald's Corp., claiming that the company's meals with toys unfairly entice children into eating food that can do them harm.
The Washington advocacy group warned McDonald's in June that it would sue if the company did not stop providing toys with children's meals that have high amounts of sugar, calories, fat and salt. The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks class-action status.
"McDonald's offerings consist mostly of fatty meat, fatty cheese, French fries, white flour, and sugar — a narrow combination of foods that promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease — and may lead to a lifetime of poor diets," Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director, said in a news release.
The lead plaintiff in the suit is Monica Parham, a mother of two from Sacramento who said the company "uses toys as bait to induce her kids to clamor to go to McDonald's," the organization said.
McDonald's spokeswoman Bridget Coffing said Happy Meals offer quality foods in smaller portions that are appropriate for children.
As the debate over Happy Meals and childhood obesity has raged in recent months, McDonald's has consistently pointed out that parents can choose apple slices instead of French fries for their children, and order milk instead of soda.
"We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food," Coffing said Wednesday.
"We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals," Coffing said. "We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet."
Last month, San Francisco banned promotional toys served with meals that don't meet nutritional standards. This was widely seen as an attack on Happy Meals.
Santa Clara County enacted a similar measure in April.