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'Want Fries With That' Assumed, Not Asked for McDonald's Happy Meals

Nanci Hellmich
USA Today
June 22, 2010

McDonald's restaurant staffs automatically serve french fries with kids' Happy Meals and don't mention the healthier choice of apple slices to their customers, a new study shows.

Nutrition researchers working for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C., consumer group, visited 44 McDonald's restaurants across the country and ordered 75 Happy Meals without specifying the side dish or beverage. The side dish options are french fries or apple slices, called Apple Dippers, with low-fat caramel dip. The beverages are 1% low-fat milk, 100% juice and soft drinks.

Findings:

  • 93% of the time, employees served french fries as the side without asking if customers would prefer Apple Dippers.
  • 84% of the time, the sales clerks offered a beverage choice. Soda was usually the first option mentioned.
  • More than 75% of the stores had toy displays for the Happy Meals.

A Happy Meal of a hamburger, Apple Dippers with caramel sauce, and apple juice has 25% fewer calories and about half as much fat as a hamburger, fries and soda, says Margo Wootan, the public interest center's director of nutrition policy.

Of the 24 possible Happy Meal combinations McDonald's describes on its website, all exceed 430 calories, which is a third of the 1,300-calorie recommended daily intake for kids 4 to 8, the center says. McDonald's is offering toys related to the latest Shrek movie, the group says.

"It is good that McDonald's has taken some steps to address junk food marketing, but they shouldn't give away toys with unhealthy meals," Wootan says. Fast-food companies spend $520 million a year on marketing to children, and $350 million of that is on toys, she says.

On Tuesday, the center sent McDonald's a formal letter saying the consumer group intends to sue the fast-food chain if it continues to use toys to promote Happy Meals to children. The consumer group says that's unfair and deceptive marketing and is illegal under state consumer protection laws. "In the past, we've asked them not to promote unhealthy meals with toys and to have the default side dishes and beverages be the healthy choices," Wootan says.

William Whitman, vice president of communications for McDonald's USA, said in a statement: "Since 2006, we have been a part of the Council for Better Business Bureau's voluntary initiative to address the importance of children's well-being. In the U.S., McDonald's primarily advertises the four-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal, which includes Apple Dippers, low-fat caramel dip and 1% low-fat white milk.

"We are proud of our Happy Meal, which gives our customers wholesome food and toys of the highest quality and safety. Getting a toy is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald's."


 

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