witness statement

name: Tim Lobstein
section: Nutrition
for: The Defence
experience: Nutritional expert


The problems which we have in our modern diet are those linked to the excess of fat, salt and sugar - and the criticisms of McDonald's food is that McDonald's tends to take the basic food ingredients and add fat, salt and sugar, so encouraging their customers to eat a worse diet.


Full cv:
(not available for this witness)

full statement:

I understand the relevant issues raised in this case and my comments are set out below.

I have examined the nutritional make-up of a variety of fast food meals including eight 'meal combinations' published by McDonald's and have higher fat levels than recommended for an overall balanced diet while also having low levels of certain of essential vitamins and minerals. If meals such as these were being eaten frequently they would need to be balanced with low fat high nutrient meals to compensate. In my experience this is unlikely to be the case: government figures show that younger eaters tend to consume excess fat and insufficient quantities of certain vitamins and minerals, while a study conducted by the Food Commission in 1988 found that people eating fast food meals every day. It is therefore my belief that the sorts of food promoted by McDonalds would tend to encourage poor eating habits and furthermore that it would be difficult in practice to eat a balanced diet if one relied on McDonald's menu alone.

The imbalance in the diet of the general population that the UK Department of Health and the World Health Organisation are currently concerned with (excess fats and sugars, insufficient dietary fibre and insufficient fruit and vegetables and the nutrient derived therefrom) has many similarities with the imbalance found in the 'meal combinations' published by McDonald's and it may be suggested that the promotion of McDonald's meals will therefore contribute to the maintainance of such imbalanced diets.

Tim Lobstein


THE 'EXPERT WITNESS REPORT ON NUTRITION TESTIMONIES' as prepared by Verner Wheelock and dated 13 January 1994

Five points are summarised on pages 1 and 2 of the above report, and then expanded upon in greater detail. These five points are dealt with in turn below.

1. `There is an assumption that meals purchased at McDonald's make a major contribution to the diet of customers.'

The nutrition testimonies referred to several studies which support the serious implications of eating diets which include frequent meals such as those promoted by McDonald's.

The frequency of eating such meals varies, of course, with some groups of the population eating far more fast food meals than other groups do. Government figures show a tragic tendency for younger eaters to be eating large quantities of fast food, such as burgers and french fries (Diets of British Schoolchildren, HMSO, 1989). A market research survey showed fast food to be eaten most often by those aged 15-24, and these young people ate fast food twice as often as people aged 45-64 (British Market Research Bureau/Mintel 1985).

A survey by the trade association HOTAG (Consumer Catering Reports, 1986) found that 43% of those aged 15-24, 54% of unemployed people and 36% of students ate fast food more than twice a week. A survey by the London Food Commission (Grazing in Peckham, a survey of 354 fast food eaters in the London Borough of Southwark, l987) found 87% of respondents had eaten fast food at least once during the previous week, and 31% said they ate fast foods on average every day.

McDonald's is not the only fast food outlet, of course, but it is the leading one, with an estimated 4O% of adults having visited it at least once during the year (based on Gordon Simmonds Research Ltd survey, 1987).

I would suggest that for an increasing number of people McDonald's meals represent an increasing part of the diet, and that for some parts of the population it already represents a sufficiently large part of the diet, enough to justify the concerns expressed against the promotion of McDonald's meals.

Oddly, on page 13 of the document, the statement is made that `... the types of products which are supplied by McDonald's do play a critical part in the diet.' However, I think the author means simply meat, bread, potatoes milk etc, and not the fast food versions which tend to add fat, salt and sugar to these basic foods.

2. 'There is a failure to appreciate the complexity of the relationship between diet and health.'

There is a consensus view that diets high in saturated fat and sodium are related to the health problems of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. McDonald's now appear to accept this (Facts admitted, 15 December 1993). There is also a consensus view that extrinsic sugar (sugars separated from their vegetable origins) in the diet is closely related to tooth decay (see Dietary Sugars and Human Disease, HMSO, 1989).

I am pleased to see on pages 9 and 10 of the document that McDonald's has been making changes to the specifications for the composition of its foods in response to healthy eating concerns. The report acknowledges these changes to be a contribution towards 'achieving the targets set by the Government' and that these changes were begun 'before 1992.'

It is my belief that McDonald's has responded to consumer concerns that their food was not as healthy as it might be. The changes they have made make the same assumption about the `relationship between diet and health' complained of above.

The health concerns McDonald's have started to respond to are similar to the concerns expressed in the present case, made at a time prior to 1992 and prior to McDonald's recent changes in specifications. One might even argue that McDonald's has responded to the criticisms made in this case, along with criticisms expressed by others.

3. `There is a failure to recognise that nutrition is not the only factor .. on choice of food.'

This is not a failure, of course, as the testimonies on nutrition were supposed to be testimonies on nutrition and not testimonies on other factors influencing food choice

4. '... there is undue emphasis on the role of the major components of the diet... at the expense of the minor components.'

The author is trying to steer our attention away from what McDonald's meals offer to what basic food ingredients offer, and how useful the latter are.

Arguing that milk, meat bread and potatoes are part of a good diet is one thing; arguing that the same ingredients, mixed with added fats, salt and sugar are also part of a good diet is another . The problems which we have in our modern diet are those linked to the excess of fat, salt and sugar - and the criticisms of McDonald's food is that McDonald's tends to take the basic food ingredients and add fat, salt and sugar, so encouraging their customers to eat a worse diet.

5. `Absolute safety is simply not attainable'

Of course; but the removal of unnecessary risk is not only attainable but essential for public health.

The fact that McDonald's have shown they are capable of making improvements in their specifications of their foods, in the direction of better health for their customers, suggests that improvements in 'safety' (i.e. in the prevention of disease) are manifestly possible (see also above).

The improvement McDonald's have made (eight instances are given in the document, pages 9-10) have come about since the episode McDonald's have complained of in this case.

date signed: February 4, 1994
status: Appeared in court
references: Not applicable/ available
exhibits: Not applicable/ available

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