But children young enough to be seduced by Ronald McDonald or Happy Meals rarely visit restaurants without parents. These adults are free agents experienced at saying "no" to protect the interests of their sometimes ungrateful offspring.
Parents who dislike McDonald's sales tactics have a wealth of dining alternatives. And anyone who wants a low-fat, low-calorie meal can easily find it underneath the Golden Arches: Health magazine ranks McDonald's among the 10 healthiest fast-food restaurants.
It may be argued that many parents are too weak or ignorant to make sound decisions about the food their kids eat. If so, McDonald's and its unstoppable brainwashing machine could vanish tomorrow without making the slightest difference in obesity or other diet-related ailments.
People don't like cheap, tasty, high-calorie fare because McDonald's offers it. McDonald's offers it because people like it. In McDonald's absence, patrons would seek it out at other fast-food places, sit-down establishments or grocery stores.
We live in an age of inexpensive, abundant food carefully designed to please the mass palate. Most of us, recalling the scarcity, dietary monotony and starvation that afflicted our ancestors for hundreds of millennia, count that as progress. But those determined to save human beings from their own alleged folly see it as catastrophic.
What is apparent is that the militant enemies of fast food would like it treated as a public health menace along the lines of tobacco. They want broad measures to restrict, discourage and punish the companies that sell it.
Ronald McDonald is merely a convenient symbol. Their true target is a capitalist economy that gives companies far too much latitude in appealing to customers and allows government far too little control over our food choices.
The idea of using government power to dictate what we eat will strike many Americans as a gross intrusion on personal freedom. But McDonald's enemies? They're lovin' it.