Currently browsing posts about: McDonald’s
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:
- Olympic Torch Relay
Integrated Marketing Campaign, Move to the Beat
- Global Anthem, Documentary & Global TV Commercial
- Coca-Cola Presents, Beat TV
- Digital & Mobile Application
- Games-time Refreshment
- Powerade Sports Academy
- Physical Activity Programs
- Legacy in sustainability
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
- Automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving)
- Automatically include a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces)
- Automatically reduce the sodium by 15% or more
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:
- Hamburger, Cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets.
- “Beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk”
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.”
The second quarter financial results are in and food companies are doing great, thanks to sales in developing countries. For example:
McDonald’s: Meatandpoultry.com reports (July 22) a 15% increase in income “boosted by strong sales throughout the world.” Total revenue for the quarter was $6.9 billion, up 16% from $5.9 billion during the same quarter last year.
PepsiCo: Food Navigator reports an increase in net income to $1.88 billion up 18% from $1.6 billion last year. Despite “challenging conditions in the North American beverage market”… worldwide beverage and snacks businesses accounted for growth along with the acquisition of Russian dairy and juice company Wimm-Bill-Dann. Sales in emerging markets increased 4% in beverages and 9% in snacks: “We continue to enjoy robust top-line growth in key emerging markets,” said PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.
Coca-Cola: Although its North American sales were sluggish, sales increased ”due to growth in emerging markets such as China, Russia and Mexico.” Income rose 18% to $2.8 billion from $2.4 billion last year. Sales rose 6% in Latin America, 5% in Europe, 7% in Eurasia and Africa, and 7 in the Pacific region. Growth in China ws 24%, in Russia 17%, and in Mexico 7%. In contrast, North American volume recorded a growth of a measly 1%.
Americans are turning away from these products. We already have plenty of obesity. Now it’s time to export it.
A reader, Jeff Harpell, comments on my scheduled talk in Barcelona:
I lived in Barcelona last year and the year before….While they are becoming more influenced by American fast food, having both parents work, and buying more from one stop food markets, the lifestyle, social support systems, i.e., healthcare and eating habits still are very different from the USA
….I suspect that the Catalonians are concerned about their citizens’ heading down a path of bad eating habits and how to prevent them. Any thoughts to share?
Three first impressions:
1. The tourist bureau on La Rambla gives out a free city map courtesy of McDonald’s. The map helpfully identifies the location of all of the McDonald’s outlets in Barcelona, and its such a relief to know that you don’t have to go far to find one. I counted at least 10.
2. The Carrefour supermarket has a meat section unlike any supermarket meat section in the United States. Those unwrapped hams are not cheap (yes, that’s 79 Euros, nearly $140, but it’s a big ham). Leaving the ham attached to the hoof is an interesting touch. I can only imagine what the New York City health inspectors might say about them.
3. The Boqueria open-air food market has the most beautiful cut fruit for sale—something like this would make getting those daily fruit servings a real treat.
More to come!
I’m surprised at the mayor’s comment that “parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat,” because the San Francisco ordinance is not about the food. It’s about the toys.
Nobody is stopping parents from ordering Happy Meals for their kids. But as everyone knows, kids only want Happy Meals because of the toys.
The idea that government has no role in food choice is ludicrous. The government is intimately involved in food choices through policies that make the cost of some foods—those containing subsidized corn or soybeans, for example—cheaper than others.
It is not an accident that five dollars at McDonald’s will buy you five hamburgers or only one salad. It is not an accident that the indexed price of fruits and vegetables has increased by 40% since the early 1980s, whereas the indexed price of sodas has decreased by 30%. Right now, agricultural policies support our present industrialized food system and strongly discourage innovation and consumption of relatively unprocessed foods.
Agricultural policies are the results of political decisions that can be changed by political will. If we want agricultural policies aligned with health policies—and I certainly do—we need to exercise our democratic rights as citizens and push for changes that are healthier for people and the planet.
Yes, individuals are the ultimate arbiters of food choice.
But our present food system makes unhealthful eating the default. We need to be working for government policies that make healthy eating the default. The San Francisco ordinance is a small step in that direction.
The Pop-Tarts store in Times Square (see yesterday’s post) is only the loudest example of innovative food marketing to come out recently. I’ve been collecting more subtle examples:
Using social media (and getting customers to pay for it): For 99 cents to I-tunes, you can buy an app that gives nutritional information for products at Jack-in-the-Box or at McDonald’s. As Mark Douglas of Culinate explains: “They want $0.99 to tell you what you probably already know… Watch Out!”
Co-opting health professionals: Michele Simon (author of Appetite for Profit) writes on AlterNet about how PepsiCo hires distinguished health professionals and experts to give a company that sells snack foods and soft drinks an aura of health and wellness.
Co-opting professional organizations: Lisa Young (the Portion Teller) points me to a Webinar on August 25 run by the industry-sponsored School Nutrition Foundation and the Milk Processor Education Program on what is surely an urgent issue for sellers of chocolate (sugar-added) milk: “Keep flavored milk from dropping out of school!”
Deflecting attention from diet: Lisa sends another Webinar notice for September 14, this one for “skills & tools to enhance change in physical activity behavior.” Its sponsor?
The Coca-Cola Company’s Beverage Institute For Health & Wellness is a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Accredited Provider with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) – provider number BF001.
Plain, old-fashioned lobbying: Food Safety News has a nifty report on food company lobbying expenditures (huge), mainly on the food safety bill but also on many other bills that might affect labeling or sales of food products.
I reviewed these methods in my book, Food Politics. A revised edition came out in 2007. Not much change, alas.
Addition: Attracting school kids: Michele Simon sends this Pepsi partnership with Hy-Vee stores in Iowa. Parents buy five Pepsi products; Pepsi buys backpacks for their kids.