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The Proof Is In The Happy Meal

In 2010, Brazilian Judge Joao Filho awarded a former McDonald’s (MCD) franchise manager $17,500 in damages, after the 32 year-old man sued the chain for making him fat.  The manager claimed that free lunches the franchise provided were making him “fat”.  “Fat”, in this instance, is a total weight-gain of 65 lbs. over the course of 12 years.

  • That’s 5.4 lbs. per year.

    Photo by rob_rob2001

  • 0.10 lbs. per week.
  • 0.01 lbs. a day.


As absurd as this lawsuit may seem, it  – and many other similar lawsuits throughout the years –  raises a pretty interesting debate on who is ultimately responsible for the steady increase  in obesity rates


True – nobody is holding us down, prying our mouths open, and shoving Big Macs down our throats; but we can’t entirely discount the power of persuasion. Whether it’s a strong willed child pleading for a hamburger, or the new cool toy in the happy meal; the appeal of picking up food after a long day at work; the convenience of having a safe air-conditioned environment for kids to play in; or the necessity to feed a family on a limited budget; “avoidance” just may not be that easy for everyone.


Understanding the stronghold the fast food giant really has on both children and parents, lawmakers and concerned parents have raised their voices and taken action to incentivize McDonalds to improve upon the nutritional quality of their food.  In 2010 San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to pass a law that cracks down on the popular practice of giving away free toys with unhealthy restaurant meals for children.


Whether it is banning Happy Meals or providing alternative healthy options for families, there was no doubt that something substantial needed to be done.


Currently 1 in 3 Americans are considered to be obese, and it is no coincidence that it is estimated 1 in 3 children (born in or after 2000) will develop diabetes in their lifetime. In fact, one recent study showed that obesity rates in adults actually rose in 28 states this year.Only the District of Columbia showed a decline.


 It is truly a growing problem; but now McDonalds has decided to implement healthy programs to become a part of the solution.


July, 2011 McDonald’s® announced its “Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices,” a comprehensive plan to help consumers make nutrition-minded choices when visiting McDonald’s or eating elsewhere.


 So for those of you who think that speaking up and using your voice to make positive changes to improve the health of families and communities doesn’t make a difference…. The Proof Is In The Happy Meal.


I don’t think the driving force behind McDonald’s new healthy changes were politicians, it was parents

Here are the highlights from the “Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices” press release. (Please click here to see the full article):

  1. Championing children’s well-being: For example, starting April 2012 (or sooner!), Apple Slices will be included in every McDonald’s Happy Meal®.  This means about 20 percent fewer calories in the most popular Happy Meals.
  2. Expanded and improved healthier nutritionally-balanced menu choices: By 2020, McDonald’s will reduce added sugar, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations.
  3. Increased access to nutrition information: McDonald’s will expand its in-restaurant, website/mobile communications, and marketing vehicles to make it even easier to access the information you want before you order. To begin, McDonald’s is now making available its first mobile app so customers can access nutrition information on-the-go on iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android devices.

Actions in support of the nutrition commitments are already underway at restaurants. 

Sodium Reduction: McDonald’s has already reduced sodium by 10 percent in the majority of its national chicken menu offerings – most recently Chicken McNuggets®, a Happy Meal favorite. Sodium reductions will continue across the menu in accordance with the Company’s 2015 commitments.  

New Happy Meal: McDonald’s will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September 2011, with the goal of having them available in all 14,000 restaurants during Q1 2012.  The new Happy Meal will automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of a Hamburger, Cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk. For those customers who prefer a side choice of apples only, two bags of apple slices will be available, upon request.

Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative: Since 2006, McDonald’s has supported the Council of Better Business Bureaus (“CBBB”) Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (“CFBAI”) involving a voluntary Food Pledge to only nationally advertise products to kids that represent healthier dietary choices. McDonald’s was actively engaged in the process to help develop CBBB’s recently announced more rigorous pledge standards, which include stricter sodium and sugar criteria, zero grams artificial trans fat per labeled serving, and requirements for nutrient components to encourage.

Listening Tour: To ensure that the company’s ongoing commitments are supporting parents and communities, Fields and McDonald’s U.S. executive leadership team will embark on a national listening tour in August. They will hear directly from parents and nutrition experts about how McDonald’s can play a role in this important topic. McDonald’s will launch a new online parents’ community that provides a forum for McDonald’s and parents to more frequently engage in dialog around these important topics. 

Accountability and Measurement: To evaluate McDonald’s progress and the impacts of its nutrition commitments, McDonald’s will rely on independent third-parties with expertise in children’s well-being. The company is establishing a Kids’ Food and Nutrition Advisory Board comprised of parents and experts in children’s nutrition, education and behavior to help develop effective nutrition and active lifestyle marketing messages and programming for kids. McDonald’s will also enter into an agreement with a third-party organization to collaborate on a comprehensive measurement process that sets benchmarks and annual progress against commitment goals, which will be reported publicly.


 ABOUT ME: My name is Marlayna. I’ve recently shared my story about why I chose to LIVE MY LIFE WITH INTENTION- my life’s journey towards becoming who I am today (click here to read it). I’m a mother, wife, friend, and a diabetes prevention advocate. I occassionally blog about living a healthy lifestyle.

 * The opinions represented in this post are my own, and do not express those of the Skinny Gene Project or J. Moss Foundation

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