Obese girls sue McDonald's

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 12:00am

SCMP, November 22, 2002

JAZLYN BRADLEY loved her McDonald's super sized. A McMuffin in the morning and the Big Mac meal with an apple pie in the evening was normal fare.

Ashley Pelman was more of a Happy Meal girl. She liked the prizes.

Jazlyn is 19, 1.67 metres tall and weighs 122kg. Ashley is 14, 1.5 metres tall and 77kg.

They are suing McDonald's and the two New York franchises they frequented for damages related to their obesity.

On Wednesday, a US District Court judge in Manhattan heard a motion by McDonald's lawyers to dismiss the case.

Judge Robert Sweet has not ruled on the motion, and the case has yet to reach trial. But the idea of suing McDonald's and other fast-food firms for health problems, such as obesity and diabetes, that may stem from the consumption of their products is cause for industry alarm.

McDonald's and industry officials say the teenagers' lawsuit is the first to find its way to court.

'Within the industry, it has got everyone's attention,' said Steven Anderson, president of the US National Restaurant Association. He said while his members were concerned about such lawsuits, the organisation found them frivolous.

At the heart of the lawsuit brought by the two teenagers is whether McDonald's is responsible for their obesity because it did not provide the necessary information about the health risks associated with its meals.

If their lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, makes it to trial, he hopes to turn it into a class action on behalf of all New York children under 18 who claim health problems they say resulted from McDonald's food.

The company's lawyers argued that the case did not warrant the court's attention, saying the matter was about common sense and individual responsibility.

The lawyers said in their motion: 'Every responsible person understands what is in products such as hamburgers and fries, as well as the consequences to one's waistline, and potentially to one's health, of excessively eating those foods over a prolonged period of time.'

Mr Hirsch said the chain's billion-dollar advertising campaign encouraged children to find their inner glutton.

'Young individuals are not in a position to make a choice after the onslaught of advertising and promotions,' he said.

McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker denied that the company makes children a target of its advertising. 'No one cares more about kids than McDonald's.'


fare (n) a range of food, especially of a particular type

franchise (n) a business or service with authorisation granted by a company (or franchiser) to a franchisee enabling them to carry out commercial activities or act as an agent for the franchiser's products in exchange for a fee

motion (n) an application to a court for a ruling on certain matters or disputes

dismiss (v) in legal context, dismiss means to throw a claim out of court without a hearing

When we dismiss a person, we discharge them from their responsibilities. Example: The California Court of Appeal has rejected a wrongful dismissal claim brought by nine former Cathay Pacific Airways pilots. The airline dismissed 49 pilots during a long-running industrial dispute with the union representing the pilots.

(SCMP, November 19, 2002)

If we dismiss an issue, we stop considering it. Example: Western Court magistrate Allan Wyeth yesterday dismissed criticism of his original sentence - 240 hours of community service - saying it had nothing to do with [Nicholas] Tse's social status and popularity. (SCMP, November 19, 2002)

frivolous (adj) trivial; unimportant

glutton (n) an excessively greedy eater

Discussion points

? Who should be responsible for Jazlyn and Ashley's health problems?

? Do you like eating in fast-food restaurants like McDonald's? Do you know the nutritional value of the food you eat there? Do the fast-food chains provide enough information about this?

? What is the purpose of advertising? Do you agree with the girls' lawyer that the fast-food chains' promotional campaigns deprive children of the opportunity to make an informed, healthy choice about their diet?