Happier Kids’ Meals?

Happier kids’ meals might be a real possibility. The Yale Rudd Center — no fan of the fast food industry — is praising McDonald’s for healthy changes to its trademark Happy Meals. At the same time, a new study published in Obesity shows how such changes can make a difference for children.

Don’t get the wrong idea. The Rudd Center still has plenty of bones to pick with McDonald’s specifically and with the fast food industry more generally. Less than 1% of kids’ meals at fast food restaurants meet expert nutrition standards for children and just 3% meet the industry’s own (less stringent) standards. Their latest report concludes that the progress they’ve found is “slow and unlikely to reduce young people’s overconsumption of high-calorie, nutritionally poor fast food.”

The new study by Brian Wansink and Andrew Hanks in Obesity speaks directly to the changes the Rudd Center is commending at McDonald’s. They analyzed more than 200,000 transactions at McDonald’s both before and after implementation of changes in the Happy Meal and found a significant reduction (18.8%, p<0.001) in the number of calories purchased in kids’meals and a significantly greater (p<0.001) proportion of meals purchased with milk.

What did McDonald’s change? They cut the number of fries per meal in half and added fruit to every meal by default. Milk was more prominently featured in Happy Meal advertising and promotions.

So subtle changes can make significant differences in fast food nutrition. The rest of the industry should follow the lead and pick up the pace.

It’s way past time for happier kids’ meals all around.

Click here to read more from the LA Times, click here to read the report from the Rudd Center, and click here to read the study by Wansink and Hanks.

Happy Meal? Photograph © Bryan Costin / flickr

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