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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

McDonald's Announces Healthier Changes To Happy Meals

McDonald's USA announced plans on July 26 to offer healthier choices to its customers. The plans, which McDonald's is calling, "Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices," include making Happy Meals healthier. The iconic children's meals will "automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option," according to a press release.

McDonald's estimates that the changes will result in a 20 percent calorie reduction "of the most popular Happy Meals," as well as a reduction in fat content. The new Happy Meals will be launched in September, and by the first quarter of 2012 they will be available in all 14,000 US restaurants.

The plans to make its menu healthier include reducing added sugars, saturated fat and calories through "varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations" by 2020. They'll also switch out apple slices for half the fries automatically and all the fries upon request. By 2015, McDonald's will reduce sodium by an average 15 percent across its menu.
McDonald's will also mak the nutritional information in its menu choices available. McDonald's introduced an app that allows customers to access nutrition information. The app is available for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android devices.

"McDonald’s will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities," said Jan Fields, president, McDonald’s USA. "The commitments we’re announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing."

McDonald's changes to Happy Meals are not as healthy as it seems

The beverages choices in the new Happy Meals will include fat-free chocolate milk and one percent low fat milk. Nonfat chocolate milk has 20 grams of sugar, which is over eights grams more than the American Heart Association recommendation that children consume less than 12 grams of sugar a day, or three teaspoons.

There is a good chance that customers might choose the sugar-saturated chocolate milk, just as 88 percent have not chosen apples over fries, according to McDonald's own admission in the press release for the plans. McDonald's has offered apples as a "requested choice" in its Happy Meals since 2004, but only 11 percent of its customers requested them.

McDonald's said it supported the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative's Food Pledge to only nationally advertise products to children that "represent healthier dietary choices," in the press release. A better choice would be to greatly reduce its marketing to children.

A study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that out of 3,000 meal combinations looked at, only 12 met the researchers' nutrition standards for preschoolers. The study also found that fast food advertising to children is working, as 40 percent of children two to 11 years old ask their parents to go to McDonald’s at least once a week, and 15 percent of preschoolers ask to go every day. A whopping 84 percent of parents report taking their child two to 11 years old to a fast food restaurant at least once in the past week.

Kellie Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International, said, in a statement, that while McDonald's plans are a "good first step," it still needs to address "the central issue, it's aggressive brand marketing to kids." Louaillier added, "And so long as burgers, fries, and soda offerings to kids, alongside toys, remain central to that brand, health professionals will continue to call for the marketing to stop."

Photo: Xurble

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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