After years of pressure to improve the health of food choices available in children’s Happy Meals, McDonald’s has announced it will stop promoting soda as a Happy Meal drink choice. Instead, the advertisements and menus for the restaurant chain will promote more fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and water. Parents can still order soda with the Happy Meal, but McDonald’s will not be promoting that choice.
“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,” said Harold Goldstein, DrPH Executive Director at California Center for Public Health Advocacy
Slow Roll Out For These Important Health Changes
At first glance, the change in advertising strategy by McDonald’s appears to be a move in a positive direction, but further investigation raises some concern. Raising particular concern is the estimated timetable for implementation of this seemingly simple change. McDonald’s officials indicated that these new healthier changes will take place in their restaurants all over the world by the year 2020 – 7 years from now!
Moving away from actively promoting soda is a noble decision by McDonald’s, however, is only the first of many changes that need to happen to address the growing childhood obesity epidemic. Currently, it is estimated that 33% of children are overweight or obese.
ADDRESSING OBESITY, THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PARENTS
The blame for childhood obesity tends to fall on television, school meals, advertising, and in this case, the availability of a soda in a happy meal. The most alarming statistic for predicting obesity in children is the weight of parents. A staggering 64% of children with overweight parents become overweight, compared to only 16% of children from parents of normal weight.
This indicates that regardless of the steps taken by advertisers and fast-food suppliers, parents ultimately determine the quality and amount of food (including soda) and exercise for their children. And while there are a number of factors and reasons why unhealthy foods are inexpensive and readily consumed, additional research indicates the number one reason for continued reliance on these foods is convenience. The majority of people indicated they would eat healthier natural and whole food options if they were easier and quicker to prepare.
While these findings raise a host of other questions, the bottom line is that parents need to move quickly to prevent children from being overweight, which directly increases blood sugar levels, diabetes risk, blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
Healthy meals, complete with sources of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and an avoidance of processed, high-fat, high-sugar, genetically modified foods, are essential for the future health and weight of children.