- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Three teenagers in New York City have filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald's Corp., saying the fast food chain's food caused them to gain as much as 200 pounds and develop serious health problems including heart disease and diabetes.

The teenagers, whose ages range between 13 and 19, say in court papers that McDonald's inaccurately posted nutritional information and deceptively advertised its products. They also say the restaurant chain used marketing practices such as toy and value meal promotions to entice its patrons to eat the food.

"We feel that the advertising strategies [of quick-service chains] target young children," said Samuel Hirsch, the attorney representing the teenagers. "Toy promotions and Happy Meals are a lethal combination."

Mr. Hirsch said his clients ate at McDonald's almost every day for at least five years. One teenager, who is 5-foot-9-inches tall, now weighs 270 pounds; another, who is 5-foot-3-inches tall, now weighs 200.

The parents of the teenagers, either unemployed or on disability, filed the lawsuit on behalf of their children. The lawsuit seeks undetermined compensatory damages.

McDonald's officials yesterday the lawsuit and others like it make "no sense."

"This is nothing more than a frivolous lawsuit," company spokesman Walt Riker said in a written statement. "Its claims are ridiculous. Common sense tells you that it makes no sense. McDonald's serves quality food. Our menu features choice and variety with lots of options for consumers.

"Meanwhile, McDonald's will continue to do what we've been doing for 30 years: providing industry-leading nutrition information to customers about our menu offerings so that they can make informed choices," the statement reads.

McDonald's announced last week it would introduce a new cooking oil that has lower levels of trans-fatty acids, which have been linked to raising "bad" cholesterol levels.

The latest lawsuit, filed in the New York Supreme Court, comes a month after a New York City man, who has been eating fast food since the 1950s, sued the country's four leading fast-food chains, also blaming the restaurants' fatty fare for his health problems.

In July, Caesar Barber, 56, filed a suit also with the Supreme Court of New York against McDonald's, Burger King Corp., KFC Corp. and Wendy's International, blaming the chains for making him and others overweight and raising his risk of illness related to being overweight. Mr. Barber also is being represented by Mr. Hirsch.

In his case, Mr. Barber, a 5-foot-10-inch, 272-pound maintenance worker, said he had heart attacks in 1996 and 1999, and has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

So far, the two cases are based on studies documenting obesity and related illnesses. The latest lawsuit charges that McDonald's franchises are negligently selling products "that are high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol content which numerous studies have shown cause obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, elevated cholesterol intake, related cancers, and/or other detrimental and adverse health effects and/or diseases."

The lawsuit drew criticism from consumer groups and plaudits from medical groups, which said yesterday such cases alert people about the health risks of consuming fast food.

"We advocate for people to take control over their diets, but these lawsuits keep fast food in the news and point to the real issues that fast food can cause," said Brie Turner-McGrievy, a clinical research coordinator with the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine.

Others disagree.

"The Caesar Barber case was clearly a legal belly flop in the eyes of the public," said Mike Burita, a spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington.

"The trial lawyers are back at the drawing board, now using kids as their new pawns to try to get their multimillion-dollar payday in court. This has everything to do with fattening attorney wallets and nothing to do with slimming down Americans."

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