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IMA Wellness Blog

Focusing on Families

by Julia Braun and Dr. Howell Wechsler

McDonald’s Corp. is an IMA member…

From day one, we knew the collective force of our two organizations could catalyze change around the world — the public health expertise of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation combined with the global scale of McDonald’s. We began working together nearly five years ago with an intense focus on creating balanced meal options for children and families within McDonald’s restaurants and hoping to inspire beyond that. Together, we have a powerful opportunity to support families and help meet their needs in bigger, bolder ways.

When McDonald’s USA began automatically including sliced apples in Happy Meals, Healthier Generation recognized that this seemingly small change had the potential to impact other kids’ meals outside of the home. Soon after, some school lunch programs also began offering sliced apples — resulting in more fruit served to kids — and in a new way that kids really enjoyed. Bringing these types of insights to the table, Healthier Generation — which does not accept any funding from food or beverage companies — has independently informed our joint work from concept to execution with a shared commitment to rigorous measurement and public reporting. Together, we focus on continuously improving Happy Meals to increase balanced options for families enjoying McDonald’s food.

Our strategies are working. Today, more customers are choosing water, milk and juice as the beverage of choice in Happy Meals over other beverages in the U.S. Specifically, since removing soda from the Happy Meal section of the U.S. menu board in 2014, we saw double-digit percentage shifts to water, milk and juice, and importantly — other restaurants followed suit. Along with a beverage choice, customers are also selecting fruit, vegetable or low-fat dairy sides — with 951 million of those options served in just one year in 13 major markets across the globe. Examples include cherry tomatoes in the Netherlands, pineapple in Spain, carrots in Russia, side salad in Germany and corn cups in Taiwan. In the U.S. alone, McDonald’s served an average of 108 clementines per minute while supplies lasted in 2016.

As we look to the future, we are fortifying our efforts to make an even bigger difference for families through new Global Happy Meal Goals. These goals offer more balanced meals, simplify ingredients, continue to be transparent with Happy Meal nutrition information, reinforce responsible marketing to children, and leverage innovative marketing to help drive the purchase of foods and beverages that contain recommended food groups in Happy Meals.

By 2022, McDonald’s restaurants will add new Happy Meal offerings, reformulate or remove offerings from the Happy Meal section of the menu board to meet these goals. We’re announcing a host of improvements later this year to Happy Meal menus in the U.S. — like adding bottled water, cutting the calories and sodium with smaller fries in the 6 piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal, and working to reduce the added sugars in chocolate milk. In addition, just last month McDonald’s Italy introduced a sandwich with lean protein (grilled chicken); McDonald’s Australia is currently exploring new vegetable and lean protein options; and McDonald’s France is looking at new vegetable offerings.

Both Healthier Generation and McDonald’s remain squarely committed to increasing balanced options for kids and families at McDonald’s restaurants worldwide. How will we know we’re making a difference? Measurement. A bedrock of our commitment. By assessing our impact, we can identify a scalable opportunity and halt a faltering initiative. And then share what we learn through independent evaluation and public reporting. Our work together will continue to influence families’ access to fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy and water options everywhere — and we’re excited for what the future holds.


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