Health Panel on McDonald's Suit: "A Scientific Travesty"!

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Physicians and scientists at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) called a second filing of a lawsuit against McDonald's Corporation "without scientific merit." Lawyers for two overweight and obese New York teenagers today filed a revised suit to replace the one which had been dismissed last month by Judge Robert Sweet in the U.S. District Court of New York.

The revised suit alleges that the plaintiffs ate McDonald's foods to the detriment of their weight and health. It decries McDonald's food as being "non-nutritious," in part because many of the products contain preservatives and other "chemicals."

In fact, ACSH scientists note, not only are chemicals such as preservatives not harmful, they help protect health by preventing spoilage, and all have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The lawsuit implies that natural, unprocessed foods are chemical-free and thus "healthier." But nothing could be farther from the truth. According to Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, ACSH president, "All foods are chemicals we're just not routinely provided with the long list of natural chemicals in the meals we eat every day. Potatoes, for example, naturally contain over 150 chemicals, including traces of arsenic and solanine chemicals that are safe in low doses but harmful at high ones. Coffee, for another, naturally contains methanol, acetaldehyde, isoprene and dimethyl sulfide enough polysyllabic items to scare any chemophobic citizen!"

(For more naturally occurring chemicals in food, read ACSH HOLIDAY DINNER MENU 2003.)

The lawsuit also claims that McDonald's literature misrepresented their foods as being "healthy." But in reality it is possible to obtain a varied, balanced and calorically appropriate diet by eating McDonald's foods in moderation there is nothing intrinsically unhealthy about it.

"Obesity is a serious health threat in the United States: the number of overweight and obese Americans has soared over the last few decades," emphasized Dr. Ruth Kava, ACSH nutrition director. "But suits such as this one are counterproductive. The suit is misleading in that it falsely implies that consuming processed foods with 'chemicals' can cause obesity. Indeed, the suit went so far as to list the chemical ingredients in McDonald's products such as Chicken McNuggets implying that because the ingredients were unfamiliar they were somehow unhealthful and caused obesity. This is absurd. As already noted, all foods are composed of chemicals and it is an excess of calories consumed relative to calories expended that causes weight gain," she commented.

"Consumers are often told that certain foods or types of foods are 'fattening' and that others are not. The truth is that eaten to excess, any food can contribute to overweight and obesity, whether that food is considered a good source of nutrients or not," Dr. Kava explained.

ACSH encourages consumers to educate themselves about the basis of heathy diets and lifestyles: all foods can be part of a healthy diet, just as overconsumption of any food can lead to an imbalance of both calories and nutrients. Suits like this one against McDonald's serve only the interests of litigators, not consumers.