I would be very hard pressed to find ten people educated in nutrition, who would equate McDonalds with healthy eating and healthy living. By attending health conferences yearly, I know that many of the food manufacturers and restaurants offering highly processed foods filled with fat, sugar and salt, also champion health causes. It's the ultimate conundrum and I hear discussion about it all the time. Is it OK on the one hand to offer products that when consumed on a regular basis, "muck up ones' health," and also support health campaigns and causes, sometimes with big dollar contributions? One could say that it's better than just offering the unhealthy food, but it remains a conflict for some. One expert that I interviewed recently, called it criminal to allow companies and food establishments to offer "stuff that can contribute to risk of heart disease, hasten chronic illness or create food addictions." Well, that is one perspective. But given the realities of obesity rates juxtaposed to a modern society that applauds business acumen, we are indeed faced with an interesting situation.
McDonalds has made some positive changes. There's a re-vamped Happy Meal with apple slices, smaller fries and 1% or fat free milk. There's also a new advertising campaign that is highlighting a "balanced diet that includes fruit and dairy." So where's the problem? Well, some experts ask - How is a child who sees all kinds of very specific foods i.e. cheeseburgers, fried chicken, fries, shakes, and soda, offered in a restaurant setting, supposed to gravitate to fruit and fat free milk? Is that child, who can hold a delicious cheeseburger and salted fries in one hand, going to really decide to also embrace the apple slices and drink the fat free milk? Of course if mom sits down and spends time explaining the benefits of a balanced diet and how each food component has importance, and models the behavior of eating the "special treat foods" and the healthier foods AND only exposes the child occasionally to special treat foods, then maybe the ad campaign will make sense. There's also the reality that many McDonalds' regulars need convenience and a bargain, and though parents may appreciate the healthier options, many will be pressed for time and nudged by their kids to still get the soda or the bigger fries serving (which is available upon request).
McDonalds will tell you that they are simply "getting with the program," in terms of offering positive messaging, healthier choices, and following the Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which demands clearer and more transparent food ads aimed at kids. Sixteen other companies are also beggining to make similar changes. But some experts continue to identify McDonalds as one of the "tasty and conniving devils," in food discussions about palate corruption and addictive food offerings and a purveyor of foods that encourage chronic diseases, again, when consumed on a regular basis. These experts and some consumer groups suggest that skim milk and fruit will have a tough time competing for an equal spot, on the plate of a kid who has been raised on McDonalds-type foods.