McDonald’s announced on Thursday it will stop marketing a portion of its unhealthy fare to young kids — including soda — and will start offering healthier side alternatives like salads and sliced fruit to its adult menu too.
According to the New York Times, McDonald’s says it is refocusing some of its marketing to turn people on to its more nutritious items. The company says it will promote water, low-fat milk and juice on their kids’ menus and any in-store promotions for its Happy Meals. McDonald’s says it will take a few years to implement the changes in half of its restaurants, and about six to seven years for the remainder of the chains.
This isn’t the first time the fast food chain has vowed to improve its food for kids. In 2011, the company cut down the calorie count of its Happy Meals 20% by lowering the amount of french fries and adding fruit to the kids’ menu.
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McDonald’s announcement is on the tail of a few other fast-food menu makeovers in the last three months. In July, Taco Bell became the first quick-service restaurant to eliminate its children’s menu altogether, which health advocates praised as a better move than marketing a meal that’s not actually healthy for kids. Just this week, Burger King unveiled their new line of french fries, Satisfries, which include 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories, to help consumers eat healthier by offering them a modified version of the menu staple they came for rather than another unsuccessful salad option.
The changes to menus and marketing plans are all coming before the requirement by the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that calls for fast-food joints to add calorie counts to their menus by 2014. And just last week, First Lady Michelle Obama held a fast-food marketing summit, bringing together members of media and the food industry and urging them to do more to promote healthier foods to kids.
But there are still concerns among nutrition experts that the changes to these fast-food chains are murky and intentions are unclear. As TIME’s Brad Tuttle pointed out in July, Taco Bell’s move to eliminate kids’ meals was more of a business-based decision than a nutrition one. The kids’ meal line wasn’t a money-maker for Taco Bell, and as their statement read, the kids meals “are not part of Taco Bell’s long-term brand strategy and have had an insignificant impact on system sales.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest says it’s concerned over loopholes in McDonald’s promises. They write in an open statement:
In briefings to health groups and in their press release and full-page newspaper ads, McDonald’s and the Alliance claimed that the company would “promote and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising.” But small print in McDonald’s formal agreement with the Alliance states that “McDonald’s may list soft drinks as [sic] offering on [sic] Happy Meal section of menu boards.
“McDonald’s could make its meals less harmful by continuing to reduce sodium, adding more whole wheat into their buns, and phasing out their 30- and 21-ounce soda sizes for adults,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the CSPI told NPR.
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Given that the McDonald’s changes won’t be fully rolled out until 2020, it may be a long time coming before we see the impact of menu changes on consumers’ choices.