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Friday, September 27, 2013

McDonald’s Surrenders Soda Stake in Kids’ Meals


McDonald's is making news again in the public health world with yesterday's announcement of plans to make water, juice and milk the new default drink choices in Happy Meals. Under this new plan a parent will have to ask to substitute soda for one of the healthier default options. In addition, starting in 2014 McDonald's will offer side salads, fruits and vegetables as substitutes for fries in its adult value meals at no additional cost in the U.S. market.

Some skeptics may wonder just how effective this new policy will be or if it will be made moot by parents who order soda for their children anyway. Disney has already had great success with this approach in its theme parks, where more than 70 percent of parents stick with the healthy options for kids' meals when they are the default offering on the menu.

So how much better for your little ones are the Happy Meals with healthier options compared to the traditional sacks filled with a cheeseburger, fries and a soda? That Happy Meal would deliver 510 calories, 35 grams (or 8.75 teaspoons of sugar) and 760 mg of sodium. By substituting apple slices for fries and water for soda, you'd keep 25 grams (or 6.25 teaspoons) of sugar and 80 mg of sodium out of your child's mouth. That's no drop in the bucket, since the American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to 4 teaspoons for preschoolers and 3 teaspoons for children ages 4 to 8. (In order to accommodate all the nutritional requirements for 4- to 8-year-olds, there are fewer calories available for discretionary allowances like sugar.)

Dr. Harold Goldstein, the executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, had the following to say, “Following years of pressure by parents, nutritionists and health advocates, McDonald's has finally conceded that young children should not be washing down their Happy Meal with a sugary, calorie-laden soda. Their decision to make water, milk or juice the default option in kids’ meals is a responsible step in the right direction. We hope their competitors will also realize that it is ultimately bad business to make liquid sugar a prerequisite of children’s meals.”

I think one of the most important goals of public health work is to "make the healthy choice the easy choice." Offering drinks with no or low sugar as the norm, instead of sugary drinks, is automatically going to decrease consumption of these unhealthy drinks. I hope other eateries follow suit and that it makes people think twice about what they offer their families to drink at home. 

~ Nicole

*Nutrition amounts of the two Happy Meal options were calculated using the "Meal Builder" feature on the McDonald's website. Click through to http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/meal_builder.html to see how your favorites add up.

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