Commentary

McDonald's Making Progress On Healthier Options For Kids

Depending on how you look at it, fewer kids want soda than they did after McDonald’s took the option off its menu boards or, given the opportunity to express their predilection, more kids still want soda than milk, juice or water.

MarketWatch’s Kathleen Burke ledes with the downside angle (if you’re viewing this from the kids’ health side of the arena).

“A progress report published Thursday by research firm Keybridge found that 48% of Happy Meals served from July 2014 to May 2015 included soda, compared with 46% served with the listed water, milk and juice option,” she writes.

Dow Jones colleague Julie Jargon takes a different approach — as does most of the coverage — in the Wall Street Journal:  “Children have been drinking less soda and eating more fruit and yogurt at restaurants, the company and a partner said in their first report on the fast-food giant’s efforts to offer healthier options for its Happy Meals.” 

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All told, the percentage of those choosing milk and juice rose from 37% and the percentage of those choosing soda fell from 56%.

“The results were noted in a report commissioned by McDonald's Corp. to track its progress on a pledge made in late 2013 with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which was founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association,” the AP’s Candice Choi writes.

“The pledge is part of a push by McDonald's to quiet critics who say it serves junk food and peddles unhealthy choices to children. Shaking that reputation is particularly important for McDonald's, whose courtship of parents and children over the decades helped make it an industry leader.”

The so-called food police took the progress as encouraging.

“In less than a year period, to see a shift away from soda is encouraging,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells Jargon. “Given that for decades restaurants have been promoting soda on kids’ menus, it’s going to take time to get into a new mind-set. Taking soda off the menu is a really important step.”

Wooten tells the AP’s Choi: “It takes more than one year to undo decades of bad marketing.” 

Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, says the results are “a critical step in the right direction,” in a statement that bulletpoints other progress the company has made toward healthier fare. 

McDonald’s USA sold 161 million tubes of Go-GURT Low Fat Strawberry Yogurts (July 2014 to May 2015), for example, and 38 million Cuties Clementines (November 2014 to March 2015) in Happy Meals and à la carte. It also “included fun nutrition or children’s well-being messages in 100% of its external advertisements directed to children” in 2014.

The pledge McDonald’s is “still working on,” as Deena Shanker puts it for Quartz: “Offering healthier side substitutions for French fries in its value meals sold at U.S. locations.” But a McDonald’s spokeswoman says it’s “very much on target” toward meeting its commitment by 2020. Indeed, “in 2014, only 2% of its U.S. restaurants offered the side salad option for value meals. In early 2015, 83% were making the offer,” Shanker reports.

Bloomberg’s Craig Giammona reminds us that new CEO Steve Easterbrook has “vowed to transform McDonald’s into a ‘modern, progressive’ burger company focused on hot food and convenience” and he took the message to the “Today Show” yesterday, which got an advance look at the report’s findings.

“As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to encourage your kids to eat well,” says Easterbrook. “But generally the reaction we get from parents is one of gratitude.” (Easterbrook also talks about the chain’s repositioning and sales-boosting efforts — the all-day breakfast initiative later got a rousing endorsement from those on the anchor desk.)

“I think that’s great because now kids can eat healthier and be happier,” says one young man after a full-screen, animated graphic emphasizes the fact that 21 million more juice and milk cartons have been sold since the company partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative. 

And three-year-old Elissa “almost always orders apple juice” to the delight of her mom, who points out to all of us — no doubt to the delight of McDonald’s corporate communications department — that kids like to go to McDonald’s to play.

1 comment about "McDonald's Making Progress On Healthier Options For Kids".
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  1. Brian LoCicero from Kantar, June 26, 2015 at 9:29 a.m.

    I had one question about this quote, "Offering healthier side substitutions for French fries in its value meals sold at U.S. locations."  

    Any time we happen to go through McDonald's, my son always chooses the Go-Gurt or the Cuties but yet, the fries are still dumped into the bag/box which seems like a) an incredible waste of money/food b) counter to their true push as they are stating it.   It's not a substitution if its an add-on.

    What's funny is that my son doesn't like McDonald's fries (or really any fries) so they either get thrown away or one of the adults will eat them. (and trust me, I don't NEED them)

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