According to End Child Poverty, one third of children in the UK are living in poverty. According to the National Literary Trust, one third of children in the UK do not own a book and half of children don't enjoy reading.
Those are disturbing statistics.
McDonald's to the rescue?
The Telegraph reported that in the UK, McDonald's will be giving away books with Happy Meals instead of those crappy plastic toys that have been filling landfills for decades.
The book giveaway will start today with a five-week promotion offering a series of non-fiction books from DK Books’s Amazing World series, including Stars and Planets, Big Cats and Oceans. By the end of 2014, the fast-food retailer will have handed out at least 15m fiction and non-fiction books to Happy Meal eaters.
Fifteen million books. Wow. That is a lot of books. Crunching the population numbers, there are probably less than 7.5 million children in the UK that are of "Happy Meal" age, so that equals two books per child on average. Considering that not everyone goes to McDonald's (some are too poor, some are too rich, some choose not to go there), the children who do go to McDonald's with their family will have a decent start to a home library through their fast food purchases.
The National Literary Trust thinks it is a positive thing. In the Telegraph, Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literary Trust said:
Initiatives like McDonald’s Happy Readers campaign play an important role in getting more books into the hands of children, and inspiring families to read together as a fun and interactive pastime.
He also noted the link between book ownership and success in life, which is certainly an important factor. Increased literacy has the potential to decrease poverty. That is certainly a positive outcome.
But is it a good thing?
I'm a big fan of the separation of church and state, both literally and figuratively. I think tying the achievement of literacy goals to fast food consumption can impair the country's ability to meet certain health and nutrition goals.
Books are better than plastic toys, for sure. At the end of the day, however, it is still a marketing ploy aimed at getting more families and more children into McDonald's.According to Corporate Accountability International, up to 40% of McDonald's advertising expenditures are aimed at children and the American Academy of Pediatrics calls that advertising "inherently deceptive".
If McDonald's was truly interested in literacy, they could skip the gimmicks and the marketing and donate a percentage of their proceeds to the National Literary Trust to have them distribute books to families in need through schools, public health systems, community-based organizations or other groups that work with low income families.
What do you think? Is tying literacy to fast food consumption a positive thing or a negative thing?
Image credit: puuikibeach on flickr