July 19th, 2011
by Cara Wilking, J.D.
The National Restaurant Association announced last week that a number of chain restaurants will be offering healthier children’s meal menu options. McDonald’s has opted not to participate in the initiative. Likely it will point to the fact that it already offers apple slices and milk and that it only advertises the healthier versions of its Happy Meals. These steps, however, do not appear to have translated into making its healthier Happy Meal combinations its most popular Happy Meal combinations.
In a letter dated June 7, 2011, McDonald’s touted its range of children’s menu options and included fact sheets providing nutritional information for its children’s meals. The fact sheets feature six Happy Meal combinations and state that the meal combinations pictured “represent two advertised meals, three most popular meals and Cheeseburger, Apple Dippers and low-fat milk meal.” According to McDonald’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative advertising pledge its “advertised meals” are the 4-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal with apple dippers, low fat caramel dip and a jug of 1% low fat white milk and the Hamburger Happy Meal with apple dippers, low fat caramel dip and a jug of 1% low fat white milk. By process of elimination, the three “most popular” meal combinations emerge as:
- McDonald’s Chicken McNugget Happy Meal with small french fries and a 12 oz. soft drink,
- McDonald’s Hamburger Happy Meal with small french fries and a 12 oz. soft drink, and
- McDonald’s Cheeseburger Happy Meal with small french fries and a 12 oz. soft drink.*
The three most popular combinations include french fries and soda despite the fact that McDonald’s only advertises combinations with apple slices and milk. This is most likely because these less healthy options remain the default when filling Happy Meal orders. If McDonald’s is serious about child health it should take real measures to ensure that its healthiest Happy Meal options become its most popular options.
*McDonald’s was contacted last week to confirm this interpretation of its fact sheets and has yet to do so.