Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Happy Meal…Not So Much

In case you haven’t heard, the fast-food giant McDonald’s has announced this week that they are launching a new, “improved” and “healthier” Happy Meal.  Now, instead of offering children the choice of apples or fries, as McDonald's had experimented with in the past, all Happy Meals will automatically include both.  The standard kid’s meal will include a quarter-cup of sliced apples (or mandarin slices or pineapple chunks) and 1.1 ounces of fries (down from 2.4 ounces).  Keep in mind that a serving of fruit is a half-cup.  So, they aren’t even offering a full serving of fruit in the kid’s meal.  Customers can skip the fries altogether and double the apple slices for a full serving, but parents must ask.

In her response to if she felt the new Happy Meals met nutritional standards, Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s, stated "I am confident about the changes that we're making on our Happy Meals."  She completely avoided the nutrition aspect of the meal.  With the exception of a few variations based upon what is ordered, the new meals will represent a 20% decrease in calories, a 15% decrease in sodium, and a 20% reduction in saturated fat, according to Fields.  That makes the meal a healthier option, but not healthy enough.  The new Happy Meal still weighs in with a total 89 grams of sugar.  Nutritionists recommend no more that 12 grams of added sugar per day for kids!  The chain estimates the changes to the Happy Meal will save an estimated 49 billion calories in American kids' diets annually.  Seriously?  If it will save that many calories our kids are consuming, parents are allowing way too many Happy Meals! 

Fields also announced that they would continue providing a toy with each Happy Meal.  So the fast food giant is willing to sacrifice our kids’ futures for a toy as a consolation prize?  For years kids have wanted a Happy Meal in part due to the toy that accompanies it.  McDonald’s has preyed upon kids’ idea of what is fun and markets directly to their young imagination.  In 2009, McDonald's spent $69.5 million on advertising for its Happy Meals.  In the first half of 2010, it spent $45.6 million alone.  "We only advertise the healthy items in the Happy Meal," said Fields. "We've been doing that for a number of years."  Maybe I am missing something, but I don’t see anything “healthy” about a Happy Meal. 

I realize McDonald’s - or any other fast food chain with kids' meals - is not the only one to blame.  Parents must make the decision to drive to a McDonald’s and allow their children to eat a Happy Meal.  Do you remember the guy who burned his mouth on the hot coffee and tried to sue the chain because the coffee was hot?  He lost that case.  And the same goes for eating calorie-loaded, fat-laden foods from the chain.  Ultimately we are responsible for what we out into our bodies and what we feed our children.  But at what point does someone step up and become the voice of reason?  As I have said so many times before, we are currently killing our kids.  Not only will obesity shorten their lifespan, obesity will limit the quality of life our youngsters have.  They are more likely to suffer diseases, cancer, and even mental health issues.  Obesity increases the risk of depression by 55%.  Furthermore, statistics show that people suffering from depression have 24.5% more belly fat than those who are not depressed.  So, from where I stand, a Happy Meal is a far cry from its connotation. 

Even if fast food marketers and producers won’t step up, we can take our own steps to getting healthier.  We can reverse the obesity epidemic that is currently being waged.  Together we can get healthy and increase the quality and quantity of our years.  If you or someone you love is facing obesity or simply wants to prevent it, I am here for you.  “Happy” is found in your health, not in a box with greasy food and a toy.  Go to to see all the ways I can help you and those you love.  Obesity is 100% preventable – let’s find true happiness today! 

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