McDonald’s moves an inch. You better run a mile.

by Dr. Karla Lester

Should child health advocates celebrate even small movements forward by corporations like McDonald’s? Will these small steps improve children’s health? Or is it all McFluff?
McDonald’s and I go way back. On my sixteenth birthday, my Mom handed me a job application from McDonald’s. She had already spoken with the manager and my position at the fryer bin was secured. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line, go pick up my polyester uniform and visor and I could start contributing to our family’s bottom line. I had a lot of character building experiences growing up, so wasn’t sure I needed to add this one to the list. I started at $3.30 per hour and got a nickel raise six months later. The L shaped fryer burn on my forearm from the fry grease which really didn’t help my glowing teenage complexion, are a couple of fond memories I hold dear from my time served.
There was also the time a very well-meaning lady, insisting on perfection from fast food establishments, threw a bag of fries at me after I ran her order to her in the parking lot. It was raining. I should have had my mouth open to catch a few of those fries. McDonald’s fries used to taste so much better. There was also the time a male coworker shoved me up against the drive thru window after I made a smart comment. I’m sure I was completely innocent. I was good at my job but felt the need to move on. My next job was at a bank. Ahhhhhhh.
That was nearly 30 years ago. My fry scar has healed. Now, I’m blogging about McDonald’s from the perspective of a pediatrician, parent, and public health advocate. Creating community solutions for children’s health is the vision of Teach a Kid to Fish.
Led by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, here are the steps McDonald’s will take by the year 2020:
1. Feature only water, milk and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising directed to children; For Happy Meals, remove all soda logos and images of cups with soda from Happy Meal section of menu boards (where it exists) and all in-store and external advertising directed to children. Note: McDonald’s will phase out the listing of soda on the Happy Meal section of the Menu Board in alignment with Year 3 and Year 5 timetables. Soda will be available as a beverage option but it will not be listed on the Happy Meal section of the menu board.
2. Offer side salad, fruit or vegetable as a substitute for fries in value meals;
3. Utilize Happy Meal and other packaging innovations and designs to generate excitement for fruit, vegetable, low/ reduced fat dairy or water options for kids or Offer new fruit, vegetable, low/ reduced fat dairy or water option in the Happy Meal;
4. Dedicate one Happy Meal box or bag panel to communicate a fun nutrition or children’s well-being message (four times annually); and
5. Include a fun nutrition or children’s well-being message in 100% of advertising directed to children.

Helping families create balance in our unhealthy environments is key, because the reality is McDonald’s is not going anywhere.
On a community level, work with families to improve health behaviors. Programs like the Teach a Kid to Fish Bodyworks program teaches families about healthy eating and being active as a family. Results show that families who participate in the Bodyworks program:

• Decrease the number of times per week they eat out at fast food restaurants
• Increase family mealtimes
• Limit screen time, thereby decreasing children’s exposure to advertisements marketing unhealthy foods
• Decrease sugar sweetened beverage consumption
• Increase daily physical activity
Those of us child health advocates working on a community level will need to stay the course by:
• Recognizing a move in the right direction by big corporations. There’s no need to celebrate though.
• Work with families to increase family mealtime and improve health behaviors.
• Weigh in on big picture policy changes that will have major impact on improving the health of children, such as limiting marketing to children.

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