Have It Both Ways

Yesterday’s post ended by noting that, after four years of its no-soda Happy Meal menu policy, the quick-service restaurant giant found that orders for sugar-sweetened beverages as part of the Happy Meal experience had dropped by 14%! Naturally, this was touted as a victory in the effort to end childhood obesity.

Well, leave it to a stuffy old institution to put an end to the fun. The University of Connecticut stepped in and flipped the script, sending word from its Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who had a different take on the matter:

A new study of parents’ fast-food restaurant purchases for their children finds that 74 percent of kids still receive unhealthy drinks and/or side items with their kids’ meals when visiting America’s largest restaurant chains.

To put it another way, a small number of kids had switched gears, while more than five times as many were still stuck in the same old rut. Somehow, when phrased like that, the decrease does not sound quite so impressive.

The academics named the four largest outfits that were problematic in this area: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Subway. Back in 2010, they had promised “to offer healthier drinks and side options in kids’ meals, and not list sugary soda as a kids’ meal option on menu boards.” Subway was found to be the only one of the biggies that voluntarily included the more healthful side dishes and drinks with their child meals. ScienceDaily reported,

A previous UConn Rudd Center study conducted in 2016 found wide variation in how well individual restaurant locations implemented those commitments.

Some, according to the report, “automatically provide sugary sodas and French fries with kids’ meal orders.” Even if the soda was left to the customer’s discretion, the brainwashing was relentless, with posters and advertisements everywhere.

As for the alternate possibilities, some of these places were playing it pretty close to the vest, as if the availability of more healthful options were some kind of shameful secret, not to be discussed in polite society. The report’s lead author Jennifer Harris said,

While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids’ meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones. If restaurants are serious about children’s health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children.

Harris also pointed out that even in kids’ fast-food meals, excessive amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium can be a ticket to future obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

Parents answered the researchers’ survey questions, and many said they chose where to spend their quick-serve dollars based on the availability of healthful options for their children and, presumably, themselves. The researchers could not explain why the safer and less caloric menu items were then chosen by such a low percentage of parents. Any type of self-reporting faces this difficulty. The ways that people are are not always the ways in which they hope to be perceived.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Despite restaurant pledges, most kids receive unhealthy items with fast-food kids’ meals, study finds,” ScienceDaily.com, 09/27/18
Images by Mike Mozart/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Presentations

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources