How McDonald's is Giving Kids a Diet Mentality

Most days I really feel like body positivity and anti-diet mentalities are prevailing and growing more common, but then other days I realize it only seems this way because that is what I choose to surround myself with.

The other evening I was visiting my niece and she had a pedometer and I thought that was quite a funny thing for a 5 year old to have. But when I found out it was from a McDonald's Happy Meal that was when I really became interested and frankly pretty confused.

 
 

On the surface this seems as a positive move in the right direction. McDonald's is trying to encourage kids to be more active, right? 

So why is this something we should look closer into?

1. The fact that this toy is given with a meal of any type connects food and exercise for the child. "When you eat you need to exercise it off", is what this says to me. Which is exactly what a diet mentality is; calories in, calories out and a lot of stress over it!

2. As Yahoo news points out, "One commercial for the product paints a theoretically ideal scenario of kids using their Step It! tracker, with two girls running and hopping in place and comparing their steps". Young girls are ALREADY comparing their activity with other females. Movement should never be a competition, this is what leads to comparison of weight and bodies and it can quickly escalate to the need to manipulate our bodies to look the way we think they should through dieting. 

3. Reports from CNN share that McDonald's removed these pedometers from their meals because of skin irritations. 

"We have taken this swift and voluntary step after receiving limited reports of potential skin irritations that may be associated from wearing the band", company spokewoman Terri Hickey said in the statement. "Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and we are fully investigating this issue" 

The fact that we are more worried about the band of the pedometer irritating our kid's skin instead of the fact that this toy encourages a dieting mentality at such a young age scares the hell out of me. This means most of society is so deep into diet culture that we can't even see it anymore, it's just the norm. 

4. This toy also emphasizes that we inhabit a diet culture while also living in a fast food culture, how is the average Joe supposed to juggle this with any grace at all? There is no way to win here unless you become more aware of how the world around you is affecting how you think and what you can do to not let it inundate you and your family's life. **(Reading articles like this is a great start!)

4. This toy is claimed to "encourage kids to exercise". So an arbitrary number is what we use in order to encourage children to exercise (this number is particularly useless since the watch doesn't work, I wore it for a few minutes and it was racking up the steps while I sat on the couch). Doesn't this sound familiar? As adults we often workout to "burn calories", to lose weight on the scale or inches in our hips; we are number obsessed and it has led to an extremely unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. If your motivation (or your child's motivation) to take care of your own body comes from the outside, it will never last. An inner desire to feel good, to enjoy life and to love your body is what will make movement and exercise for your kid a life long event. 

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When we diet or go on strict exercise programs we plug our ears and stop listening to the signals that our bodies are sending us, such as hunger, fullness and fatigue. In turn we are listening to outer cues on when, what and how we should eat. This means every time an ad for a Big Mac comes on your TV or you drive by the millions of fast food restaurants out there, you are more susceptible to give in. This is a sure fire way to self sabotage, so let's teach our children something different.

What do we do instead?

Our kids don't need pedometers, scales or caloric information. Our children need role models, so try your best to be one! 

Model good anti-diet behaviour by talking about exercise and food as two separate things. You don't need to go for a run because you ate McDonald's. Go for your run if you want but make sure it is for the right reasons and let your children see you enjoying being active, eating healthy foods, and eating less nutritious foods with enjoyment; not with shame or regret.

Healing the next generation's relationship with food might be a lot easier than it has been for us, so start now, don't let them feel the need to count their steps, their calories or their pounds. Allow them to live a life free from hating their bodies. To do this you need to learn to love yours first!

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