Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Healthy" Happy Meals?

McDonald's announced today that it's making changes to Happy Meals by: (1) adding a serving of fruit or vegetables, and (2) subtracting 1.3 ounces of French fries from the existing portion size. By next spring, all 14,000 McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. will feature the new "healthier" Happy Meals.

The fast food chain will continue to serve apple slices (minus the caramel sauce that currently accompanies them in Happy Meals), but plans to include carrots, raisins, pineapple slices and mandarin oranges in the rotation.

As for the fries, why not cut them out entirely? Because "children and parents rebelled."
"People come to McDonald's and, first of all, they want the choice and the control to be theirs, but their expectation of a Happy Meal does include a fry," said Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA. "When we did it without fries, there was a huge disappointment factor."
"Experts" have declared that McDonald's is moving in the right direction:
Geeta Maker-Clark, a family physician at NorthShore University HealthSystem, described the changes as "really good steps."

"I applaud any move toward including more whole food into a heavily processed meal," she said. "Bringing a whole food into it shifts the pendulum toward something more healthy, and I applaud the decreased portion sizes."
My prediction? These changes won't make a dent in childhood obesity.

Kids'll continue to gobble up the McNuggets they fish out of their Happy Meals. They won't miss the 1.3 ounces of fries that McDonald's is taking out 'cause they'll just grab more from their parents' large order of fries. Then, they'll suck down the Coke that came with their Happy Meal, play with the crappy little toy that came with their food, and THROW AWAY THE TINY PACKET OF CARROTS.

Let's get real: People who regularly feed their kids at McDonald's aren't the type of parents who are super-concerned about making sure their offspring finish a few carrot sticks. Don't believe me? McDonald's has been offering apple slices with their Happy Meals since 2006, but "only 11% of kids meals are ordered with apples." And of those 11 percent, I wonder how many packages of apple slices are left untouched.

If fighting childhood obesity was truly McDonald's aim, it'd get rid of the sodas. But that's not what the chain is after. As the L.A. Times put it, "[t]he business strategy for McDonald's is to make parents feel less guilty about feeding fast food to their children, so they'll become more frequent customers." And viewed through that lens, this move is likely to be a rousing success -- for McDonald's.