McDonald's has announced a new health based initiative for its kids' meals, which has gained varied support from advocates looking to combat childhood obesity.
The fast food chain announced it is adding more nutritionally-balanced choices to its menu and is planning on reducing sodium by 10 percent. Its biggest announcement concerns its kids' Happy Meal menu which will now include both apple slices and a smaller size of French fries. Kids will also get to choose fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk for the beverage lineup.
McDonald's has previously offered apple slices for its Happy Meal menu but the company said only 11 percent of the customers have chosen it despite 88 percent being aware of it. The company said the move will result in a 20 percent reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals, which subsequently reduce fat in the meal.
"McDonald's will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities," Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA, said in a statement. "The commitments we're announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing."
The move warranted varied reactions from the health community. McDonald's has received pressure from non-profits like Corporate Accountability International, which has called upon the company to cease its aggressive marketing tactics using its fatty food items as an appeal towards children. The non-profit teamed with San Francisco politicians to pass the Healthy Meals Incentive law in the city, which limits toy giveaways to meals that only meet certain health standards.
"It's a good first step, however the corporation has yet to address the central issue, its aggressive brand marketing to kids. And so long as burgers, fries, and soda offerings to kids, alongside toys, remain central to that brand, health professionals will continue to call for the marketing to stop," Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International, said in a statement.
Louaillier said McDonald's is simply taking steps in the right direction, reducing the scope of a problem that it helped create. The company received similar sentiments from another health advocate, one with much bigger name power, First Lady Michelle Obama.
"McDonald's is making continued progress today by providing more fruit and reducing the calories in its Happy Meals. I've always said that everyone has a role to play in making America healthier, and these are positive steps toward the goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity," Obama said in a statement.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 17 percent of all children in the U.S. are obese. This is triple the rate from one generation ago.
Follow Gabriel Perna on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna