The New York Times business reporter, Andrew Martin, starts a new column on the food and beverage industries today with an article on McDonald’s Portion Sizes and the introduction of Hugo drinks to temporarily replace the company’s phased-out Supersize portions. Mr. Martin’s article draws on a study on McDonald’s promises versus actions that I did in collaboration with my former doctoral student, Dr. Lisa Young, just published in the Journal of Public Health Policy. If you look at the comments to my previous entry on Hugo drinks, people do love getting 42-ounce drinks for as little as 69 cents. And, of course, they can fill those cups with water if they like.
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A colleague in Berkeley just sent me some photographs of McDonald’s advertisements for its new Hugo drinks. The drinks contain 42 ounces–the same size as the SuperSize servings McDonald’s promised to discontinue after Morgan Spurlock’s movie, SuperSize Me! appeared. They are supposed to sell for 89 cents but the downtown Berkeley outlet sells them for 69 cents, an excellent illustration of what we nutritionists mean when we talk about “cheap calories.” In Berkeley, McDonald is advertising Hugo drinks on the sides of city buses. These are written in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish, clearly directed to minority groups.
Large portion sizes strongly encourage people to eat more calories. So do absurdly cheap prices. If McDonald’s wants to be part of the solution to America’s obesity problem, it needs to make it easier for people to eat smaller portions, not Hugo ones. And if McDonald’s really wants to increase sales, it might pay attention to the happy effects of smaller portions on TGI Friday’s bottom line.