McDonald’s: Love ’em or Hate ’em

Objectivity in food and nutrition policy is hard enough to begin with. Everyone comes to the subject with personal experiences and bias. But when the subject is McDonald’s, perhaps objectivity is impossible. Recent reactions to corporate responsibility efforts by McDonald’s certainly lead us to think so.

Reacting to a recent announcement that McDonald’s will de-emphasize fries and sodas in its Happy Meals, Mark Bittman commented in the New York Times:

Despite the company’s claims, its tardiness in marketing real, healthful food solidifies Big Mac’s public image as a pusher and profiteer of junk food, incapable of doing (or unwilling to do) the right thing.

A recent announcement that McDonald’s will distribute 20 million books in happy meals with themes about healthy lifestyles brought similarly negative reactions. Jesse Bragg of the watchdog group Corporate Accountability said:

It’s definitely more of the same. It’s just a way to get their brand in front of kids in a very subversive way. But we all know that fast food is a big driver of childhood obesity.

The fact remains that McDonald’s is one of the best known brands in the world. Every day, McDonald’s serves 63 million customers — more than the entire population of Great Britain. Given the tremendous influence McDonald’s exerts across the globe, we wonder about the wisdom of dismissing any possibility of positive changes from them. The brand and its influence won’t disappear anytime soon.

No doubt, health advocates will continue to challenge McDonald’s and remain suspicious of their motives. Others will engage them in a more collaborative way. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation did precisely this last month when they announced reforms to McDonald’s Happy Meals.

The combination of pressure from activists and strategic collaboration might not be such a bad thing.

Click here to read more in the New York Times and here to read more in USA Today.

McDonald’s, photograph © Me, Miyagi! / flickr

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