A reader sent me this commentary on yesterday’s post, source unknown.
If you know who created this, please send.
Enjoy the weekend!
A reader sent me this commentary on yesterday’s post, source unknown.
If you know who created this, please send.
Enjoy the weekend!
Right after Christmas, the Wall Street Journal wrote that McDonald’s had taken down its website advising employees how to eat more healthfully—by not eating McDonald’s core products.
Here’s an aggregation of what else got sent to me from other donors who prefer to remain anonymous:
After yet another PR headache, McDonald’s has taken down its employee resources website following what it deemed “unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary.”
My favorite comment comes from a tweet from Center for Science in the Public Interest, @CSPI:
If McDonald’s apparently generous support of Ronald McDonald House Charities leaves you with warm feelings about the company’s philanthropic efforts, it’s time to rethink those feelings.
Michele Simon’s latest report, Clowning Around with Charity, should destroy all illusions about McDonald’s charitable giving.
The report comes to some interesting conclusions. McDonald’s, it finds:
If you think about it, none of this is surprising, but it’s fascinating to have it all in one place.
Here’s today’s coverage so far:
At the White House Convening on food marketing to children a couple of weeks ago, representatives of food companies repeatedly stated that advocates are not giving them nearly enough credit for how hard it is for them to make and market healthier products. They have shareholders to please. They need positive reinforcement.
Pressures on advocates to applaud food companies’ efforts may explain the furor last week over McDonald’s latest promises to go healthy. In a deal brokered with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation, McDonald’s announced its new initiatives in full-page newspaper advertisements (read the text here):
Among other promises, McDonald’s said it would:
Promote and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising.
I did not participate in any of the press events so I can’t vouch for what was said. But it must have left the impression that McDonald’s was dropping sodas as the default drink in Happy Meals (if parents wanted a soda for their kids, they would have to order one).
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), for example, issued a press release: “Removing Soda from kids’ meals among McDonald’s improvements.”
Ronald McDonald’s slow march toward healthier meals made a major advance today, but a long road lies ahead for the company. Getting soda out of Happy Meals is historic progress that should immediately be adopted by Burger King, Wendy’s, and other chains. Soda and other sugar drinks are leading promoters of obesity and diabetes and one day it will seem crazy that restaurants ever made this junk the default beverage for kids.
USA Today quoted CSPI’s Margo Wootan:
The prospect of being able to easily order a value meal at McDonald’s that’s comprised of a burger, a small salad and bottle of water is a huge step forward, says Margo Wootan, director of nutritional policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It takes a meal from being a nutritional disaster (burger, fries and soft drink), to something that will fit a healthy diet.
But then folks started looking at the fine print of McDonald’s actual agreement with the Clinton Alliance.
CSPI issued another press release the next day: “McDonald’s, Alliance for Healthier Generation, misled public and media re: soda and Happy Meals.”
McDonald’s and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation misled the media, CSPI, and families when they stated that the company would not feature, promote, or market soda in connection with Happy Meals. In briefings to health groups and in their press release and full-page newspaper ads, McDonald’s and the Alliance claimed that the company would “promote and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising.” But small print in McDonald’s formal agreement with the Alliance states that “McDonald’s may list soft drinks as [sic] offering on [sic] Happy Meal section of menu boards.”
In any case, as McDonald’s explains in its press release, don’t hold your breath for any of its promises to happen soon:
All pieces of this commitment will be implemented in 30-50 percent of the 20 major markets within three years and 100 percent of the 20 markets by 2020.
In other words, McDonald’s intends to carry out these promises in a third to half of most of its major national and international markets by 2016—three years from now. It will fulfill the promises in these particular 20 markets by 2020—seven years from now.
Food companies, alas, do not make it easy to applaud them.
Promises are one thing. Now, if they would actually do something to make and market healthier products….
Addition 1: Let’s Move! director and chef Sam Kass has this comment on McDonald’s promises:
We are encouraged by the progress announced today…. Making it easier for families to choose a healthy beverage in kids’ meals, and providing a salad option in the value menu are positive steps. A great deal of work remains to be done if we are going to ensure our children have the nourishment they need to live healthy lives and reach their full potential.
Addition 2: Here’s an explanation of how the discrepancy was found, from its finder, Casey Hinds of Kentucky Healthy Kids. Casey sent the link to Michele Simon who forwarded it to Margo Wootan (and I read about the exchange on Twitter).
Update, October 11: McDonald’s clarifies its commitment; it will not advertise sodas with Happy Meals.
On the eve of the Olympics, The Lancet has published a special issue on physical activity.
Since this is too small to read:
Worldwide, we estimated that physical inactivity causes 6-10% of the major non-communicable diseases…physical inactivity seems to have an effect similar to that of smoking or obesity.
The issue is packed with carefully researched commentaries and papers on the benefits of physical activity.
But it starts out with a tough editorial, Chariots of Fries:
The Games should encourage physical activity, promote healthy living, and inspire the next generation to exercise. However, marring this healthy vision has been the choice of junk food and drink giants—McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Cadbury’s—as major sponsors of the event
Health campaigners have rightly been dismayed. On June 20, the London Assembly (an elected body that scrutinises the work of the Mayor of London) passed a motion urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to adopt strict sponsorship criteria that exclude food and drinks companies strongly associated with high calorie brands and products linked to childhood obesity.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has said that the presence of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola at the 2012 Games sends out the wrong message to children.
This morning, I received an e-mail from the Coca-Cola Civic Action Network (CAN), described on its website as
a non-partisan group whose purpose is to provide information to the Coca-Cola family about national, state, and local issues that could affect us. Whenever an issue comes up that could change our day-to-day lives, CAN goes to work getting important information to its members.
The message lists Coca-Cola’s Olympic actions:
The e-mail says:
Coca-Cola will be refreshing and hydrating the 14,000 athletes, 7,000 officials, 20,000 workers and volunteers and more than 6 million spectators that are expected to flock to the Olympic Park. From one product in one size offered at the 1948 Olympic Games, to today’s more than 500 brands at the London 2012 Games, Coca-Cola will provide the widest range of drinks and sizes ever offered at an Olympic or Paralympic Games, to suit every lifestyle and hydration need.
Should soda and fast-food companies be sponsoring the Olympics? Is this the message we want sent to kids? I don’t think so. You?
My monthly (first Sunday) Food Matters column is in answer to a question about the deeper meaning of the fuss over McDonald’s “healthier” Happy Meals.
Q: Wouldn’t it be the best form of activism to encourage people to buy McDonald’s slightly-less-bad-for-you Happy Meals? If the new formulation flops, do you really think McDonald’s will take more baby steps in the same direction? Aren’t you letting perfect be the enemy of the good?
A: The question, for those of you ignoring national media, refers to McDonald’s announcement that it plans to restructure its Happy Meals for kids by adding fruit, downsizing the fries and reducing calories by 20 percent and sodium by 15 percent.
Skeptic that I am, I took a look at McDonald’s lengthy press release. The company does not claim to be making healthier changes. It says it is offering customers improved nutrition choices. This is something quite different.
At issue is the default meal – the one that gets handed to you without your having to ask for anything. Plenty of research shows that although customers can request other options, most take the default. So the default is what counts.
McDonald’s says its new default will include a quarter cup of apple slices (how many slices can that be?), less sodium and 1 ounce less of french fries (thereby reducing calories and fat). These are steps in the right direction, but tiny baby steps.
The rest is up to you: hamburger, cheeseburger or McNuggets.
As for beverage, the press release says, “McDonald’s will automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal.”
This sounds great. “Automatically” makes me think the default Happy Meal will come with low-fat milk. No such luck. It’s up to you to choose from soda or low-fat chocolate or plain milk.
Want something healthy? You have to ask for it. And the meal still comes with a toy, although the meal isn’t healthy enough to qualify for a toy under the San Francisco’s nutrition standards, which are scheduled to go into effect in December.
The McNuggets meal meets the San Francisco standard for sodium, overall calories and for saturated fat – if you choose low-fat white milk. It fails the other criteria. Fat provides about 40 percent of the calories (the standard is 35 percent), and fruit misses the mark by 50 percent. The hamburger and cheeseburger meals fare worse. And even if french fries count as a vegetable, they don’t reach the three-quarter-cup standard. Sodas, of course, have too much sugar.
No toy for you, San Francisco kids.
So let’s get back to the underlying question: Isn’t perfect the enemy of the good? Aren’t baby steps like these in the right direction and, therefore, deserving of support?
I don’t think so. McDonald’s proposed changes are a reason to ask a different question: Is a better-for-you Happy Meal a good choice? Wouldn’t your child be better off eating something healthy, not just slightly healthier?
Couldn’t McDonald’s, the largest fast-food maker in the world, come up with something genuinely healthy that also tastes good?
“Better for you” is a marketing ploy, and McDonald’s must need help. Although its annual sales are $24 billion from its 14,000 outlets in the United States, Happy Meals have not been doing well.
Business analysts attribute declining sales since 2003 to the unsophisticated toys. Toys are the only reason kids want Happy Meals, but more parents are ordering adult meals and splitting them with the kids. But what if Happy Meals appear healthier?
Let’s be clear: McDonald’s is not a social service agency. It is a business. Its business interests come first. This means selling more food to more people more often, viewing food choice exclusively as a matter of personal responsibility and pretending that the company’s $1.3 billion annual marketing expenditure has no effect on consumer choice.
I suspect McDonald’s actions are attempts to appease Michelle Obama’s healthy eating campaign and perhaps to attract health-minded families to its outlets.
But surely the changes are also part of a calculated public relations effort to discourage other communities from enacting nutrition standards like those in San Francisco.
What McDonald’s actions make clear is the need for federal action to make it easier for people to make healthier choices for their kids. This means putting some curbs on marketing below-standard foods to kids and insisting that default kids menus be healthy.
If McDonald’s were serious about promoting kids’ health, it would offer default Happy Meals that meet San Francisco’s nutrition standards and advertise them to the hilt. Until the company does that, I’m reserving applause.
Marion Nestle is the author of “Food Politics,” among other books, and is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. E-mail her at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page G – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle
McDonald’s sent out a press release yesterday to announce “healthier” changes to its Happy Meals.
Healthier? Not quite. The company is announcing a “Commitment to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices” [my emphasis].
The comprehensive plan aims to help customers — especially families and children — make nutrition-minded choices whether visiting McDonald’s or eating elsewhere.
Menu changes underway include the addition of more nutritionally-balanced choices that meet McDonald’s reputation for great taste and affordability, along with an increased focus on providing nutrition information that enable customers and employees to make simple, informed menu decisions.
McDonald’s says that by the end of this year it will automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal. It will:
I emphasize “automatically” because it means the default. If you order a Happy Meal, that’s what you get. Research shows that most people stick with the default. If the default is a healthy meal, kids have a better chance of getting one.
Everything else is your choice:
The press release says: “McDonald’s will automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal.”
Doesn’t that sound like the Happy Meal will come with low-fat milk?
The meal comes with a choice of a soda or low-fat chocolate or white milk. Soda remains an option. And the meal still comes with a toy.
So all the fuss—and McDonald’s has gotten huge press over this—is about 3 or 4 small slices of apples, one ounce less of French fries, and less sodium.
These may be steps in the right direction, but I’d call them tiny baby steps.
So what’s going on here? Much of this is about responding to Michelle Obama’s call for action on childhood obesity.
But according to the Wall Street Journal, business matters may also be at stake. Happy Meals account for less than 10% of McDonald’s U.S. sales, but sales have been declining since 2003 for a funny reason: “gadgets for children have become more sophisticated and the toys less desirable.” Of course the only reason kids want Happy Meals is for the toys.
But kids have to eat. Instead of Happy Meals, parents have been
ordering adult-size items off the ‘dollar menu’ and splitting them between two children rather than buying two kids’ meals.
Kids’ meal orders at fast-food restaurants have declined 15% since 2006 to just under a billion, while dollar-menu items ordered by or for kids have increased 29% in the last five years.
The Wall Street Journal quotes a restaurant consultant who comments that
Making [apples] a forced decision is a pretty unusual thing for a restaurant to do…If they can get to a place where parents associate them with healthy offerings in a world of increasing fast casual options that are perceived as healthier, that will be good for them.
But will it? McDonald’s tested healthier meals with disappointing results. So this has to be about McDonald’s trying to appear to do something to promote kids’ health. In reality, it can’t. McDonald’s is a business and its business interests come first.
If McDonald’s were serious, it could offer a truly healthier Happy Meal as the default and back it up with marketing dollars. When the company does that, I’ll cheer. Until then, as I told the Times, “I’m not impressed.”