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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Fast Food Alliance Puts the Squeeze on Unhealthy Children's Menus

Last month First Lady, Michelle Obama played an instrumental role in launching a revamped 'food plate' system to replace the food pyramid. Along with the USDA, she launched the new guidelines which recommend filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables and a fourth of it with grains. She is also raising the profile of childhood obesity with her campaign to encourage healthy eating and exercise among America's youth.

Hot on the heals of this, fast-food restaurants have started to change their menus to introduce healthier options. The fast food industry has been under fire in the past for unhealthy choices and it is beginning to realize that it has to change its policies. Fast food restaurants from Burger King to Friendly's have teamed up to are overhaul the kid's menus to make them more healthful.

As part of the program called "Kids Live Well" by the National Restaurants Association, more than 15,000 eateries across the country agreed to offer 600 calorie kids meals that feature two servings of fruit, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.

Currently, according to a study by Yale University that looked at 20 fast food chains that provided nearly 3,000 different food options for children, only 27 of the food options met the required standards set by the initiative.

The initiative will follow federal recommendations for salt, fat and sugar content. The restaurants agree to serve healthier meals that garner 35% of calories from fat, 35% of calories from sugar and have less than 770 milligrams of sodium. The restaurants must also offer a side dish of 200 calories or less according to the latest regulations.

These healthier meals will be sold are 19 chains including Burger King, IHOP, Chillies and Friendly's.

"This could provide a great push toward more healthier food offerings at restaurants," said Robert Post, deputy director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy.

This alliance is welcome news for parents who struggle to find healthy convenient meals their children will eat. Fast-food meals have previously been criticized for contributing to the obesity epidemic due to their high fat, salt and sugar content. According to recent numbers, 12.5 million children suffer from obesity and two million of severe obesity. That 12.5 million represents approximately 17% of all children in the United States.

However in order to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity, it is not enough for restaurants to simple offer a healthier version,  a lot of the onus has to fall on the parents. Restaurant menu improvements sure help, but in order for the campaign to be effective, parents have to make sure their children actually go for the healthy alternative.

It also remains to be seen how the chains will start marketing these new changes. Fast-food automatically means mouth-watering pictures of burgers, fries, cheesy pizzas etc. Will restaurant chains make the effort to make fruit, vegetables and whole-grains as appetizing?

Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotAkhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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