American Society For Nutrition

Point-Counterpoint: McDonald's Makes Menu & Marketing Announcement

Point-Counterpoint: McDonald's Makes Menu & Marketing Announcement

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 02/07/2014 at 05:41:23 PM by Student Blogger
The ASN blog was created as a forum for the latest topics in nutrition. In light of the goal to provide fresh perspectives on the hottest nutrition news, ASN initiated a point/counterpoint series on topics selected by the bloggers. The latest topic addressed is the announcement that McDonald's is working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to develop a comprehensive plan for healthier options in 20 of the restaurant chain's largest markets. We invite you to read the two entries below which provide different takes on this announcement. What do you think? Post a comment below the blogs and keep the dialogue going!

McDonald's Serves Up a Helping: “Is It Good Enough?”
By Meghan Johnson, MS, MPH

McDonald's, in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, last fall announced changes to its menu that aim to promote healthier options for consumers. President and CEO of McDonald's Don Thompson, CEO of the Alliance Howell Wechsler, and former President Bill Clinton made the announcement on September 26 at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City.

The global fast food chain will now allow customers to substitute a side salad, fruit, or vegetable for French fries in value meals. McDonald's also promised to only promote and market water, milk, and juice as beverages to its Happy Meal customers on menu boards and in-store and external advertising. The company made several similar promises regarding the promotion of healthy messages to its youngest patrons on Happy Meal boxes and other advertising platforms.

Initially, many nutrition advocates applauded McDonald's efforts–especially given the company's influence over the fast food market.  The New York Times quoted Wechsler, whose organization aims to reduce childhood obesity through a partnership with the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, saying “Companies like McDonald's play a powerful role in shaping the culture and environment that influences the health-related behaviors of young people.”

Read the full entry here.

Counterpoint: McDonald's Menu Options – Why This Mom (and Nutrition Expert) Is Loving The Proposed Changes
By Victoria Vieira-Potter, PhD

As a mother of a toddler (who, to my dismay, is developing a very discriminating palate, and one that includes little more than varying shades of beige - the  exception, of course, being colored goldfish crackers), the commitment made by McDonald's last September to: 1) promote healthier drink alternatives in their Happy Meals, and 2) offer fruit and vegetable alternatives to French fries, has made me very happy indeed.

The announcement that the fast-food chain will offer its customers healthier alternatives to French fries in value meals has been criticized for its shortcomings, the most important being uncertainty about the actual implementation of this new health promotion strategy. That is, because most McDonald's restaurants are independently owned, the financial burden on some smaller restaurants (particularly those in economically disadvantaged areas) will prohibit such business owners from actually making these changes to their menus. In fact, public health research has verified the idea that profit margins directly determine what restaurants include, or do not include as meal side options (Am J Prev Med 2007 32(5):383-8).

What's more, a recent study demonstrated that among popular fast food establishments, there is a profound price discrepancy; the healthiest options are approximately four-fold more expensive than the least healthy options (Global J Health Sci 2013 5(6):73-80). That same study found that, overwhelmingly, the less healthy options were more often promoted in widow advertisements. They conclude that lowering the cost of, and advertising, healthier options are essential elements to positively influencing food choice in fast food restaurants. In a sense, McDonald's is aiming to do both of these things and I commend them for these good intentions.

Read the full entry here.

What do YOU think? Post a comment below the blogs and keep the dialogue going!

Read the first Point-Counterpoint in the series- a debate on declaring obesity a disease.