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When did fast food companies decide it was a good idea to start giving away free toys, and have these toys ever harmed children

00:00 Tue 28th Aug 2001 |

asks mayastar:

A. McDonald's first developed the Happy Meal in the 1970s. Originally, it was believed that a puzzle-covered box would be appealing enough, but toys were added by some franchises as an extra treat. It didn't take long for McDonalds to realise that it was the toys that the children were really interested in, so the company began to distribute standardised toys.

It's estimated that a highly desirable toy can increase the number of visits to a fast-food restaurant by 15%.

Q. How many toys are given away
A.
McDonald's gives away 1.5 billion toys worldwide each year. In the US alone, McDonald's and other fast-food retailers give away about a third of all the toys distributed in the country.

The toys have become more sophisticated over time, which can lead to problems with their safety. It's difficult to make more interesting toys cheaply and make them risk-free. In the US this year, there have been five recalls of free toys by four different fast-food retailers.

Q. Has anyone been seriously harmed
A.
They usually come with a warning label that they are not intended for small children. Nevertheless, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there have been six minor injuries and two deaths in the last two years. About 30% of all product-related deaths to young children involve choking or suffocation.

Q. How can children be protected from dangerous free toys
A.
McDonald's has been using new safety tests on its free toys - such as the 'McBaby', a life-like doll with artificial lungs which is used to evaluate choking and suffocation risks.

McDonalds has loaned McBaby to the US safety commission so that other companies can create their own version.

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By Sheena Miller

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