Keep the happy but lose the crappy in happy meals
A cheeseburger, small fries and a triple-thick shake constitutes a McDonald’s Happy Meal in the US and clocks up 1,090 calories, although reassuringly the small plastic toy that’s included in the meal is usually inedible and thus calorie-free.
Leroy Comrie, a Councilman from Queens in New York, blames his portly size of 152kg on scoffing Happy Meals as a child and wants the city to follow in San Francisco’s footsteps by outlawing the toys, in an effort to promote healthier eating habits.
There are undoubtedly many problems with the toys included in Happy Meals - their plastic toxins can’t be great for the environment and they contribute to landfill, plus when Macca’s run out of a certain toy it can lead to a sibling war. But the toys themselves are not responsible for fat kids.
As a McDonald’s Vice President, Mason Smoot, was quick to tell the New York Post: “Taking away toys from kids’ meals won’t solve childhood obesity.”
Children like the toys, but their parents like them more, because it gives them five minutes of peace and quiet while they too gorge on a fatty feast. And the last time I checked, I haven’t seen many 3 to 9-year-old children (the target age for Happy Meals) taking themselves off to McDonald’s alone, pulling out their wallets and ordering over the counter.
The endless statistics indicating that children are carrying too much weight are sirens for us that this is a disease of epidemic proportions. The World Health Organisation estimates there are 42 million overweight children under the age of five globally and that low-middle income families are at the greatest risk. So it’s fair to say the scale of this issue is bigger than a small toy.
In 2006, Disney severed its ties with McDonald’s Happy Meal to avoid associating their brand with obese children. However, DreamWorks Animation continues to promote their films through the children’s menu at the ‘restaurant’ - so kids are still clearly appealing ambassadors for the Shrek franchise even if they resemble mini-Shreks.
Solving the issue of obese kids clearly falls upon multiple parties - parents, food manufacturers, governments in pressuring businesses and creating education and incentives around healthy eating. And perhaps companies like Disney and other Hollywood powerhouses, rather than abandoning their branding partnerships, could flex some muscle and lobby against the golden arches to provide only healthy meal options to kids.
While McDonald’s has certainly made some headway in adding healthy choices to their menu over the past few years with salads and fruit, they’re a global leading food brand and so they should.
No child should consume 1,090 calories with little nutritional benefit in one sitting. In order to truly set an example the Happy Meal need to only have healthy possibilities - toasted sandwiches and some fruit are a good start - plus this way the toy gets to stay.
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