The newest Happy Meal version includes 1/4 cup of apples and a smaller 100 calorie (1.1 oz) portion of French fries along with a choice of entree and beverage. McDonald’s estimates calorie savings up to 20% for any one Happy Meal. Most weight loss experts celebrate that kind of change. But not everyone has nice things to say.
A CRESCENDO OF CRITICS
There is a rising crescendo of voices that want to denigrate every food option that doesn’t meet their idea of acceptible or healthy. Andy Bellitti complains that there aren’t adequate nutrients in the Happy Meal. Mark Bittman tweets, “It is McD’s ‘job’ to make money, mostly by selling junk.” Yoni Freedhoff retweets Andy Bellitti’s assumptions and tells everyone, “we need to cook.” Marion Nestle says “I’m not impressed.”
The collective angst directed at McDonald’s no matter what they do is curious to me. I am a dietitian, seeing private patients for 25 years in Santa Monica. I taught at Santa Monica College for 15 years, 12 at UCLA Extension. I am no slouch when it comes to addressing nutrition science or working with real patients as they navigate food in their real world.
At the same time, I have consulted with McDonald’s Operators of Southern California (MOASC) for almost 20 years.(1) I see the food that they buy. I observe their crew cooking the same. This food is purchased from the same vendors supplying our neighborhood supermarkets.
I am left to wonder about all the angst and condemnation directed to fast food in general, and McDonald’s specifically.
Public health authorities tagged fast food as the culprit in the escalating incidence of obesity–especially for children– decades ago. We keep getting fatter despite it all. Has all their noise been ineffective? Could it be that the considerable amount of time and energy denigrating fast food is misdirected?
Part of the problem may be rooted in data distortion. Recently I was scouring the Report of the Dietary Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I came across this statement:
“There is not enough evidence at this time to similarly evaluate eating out at other types of restaurants and risk of weight gain, overweight, and obesity.”
Does this mean that fast food has been the primary focus just because there was no other data to address eating at sit down restaurants?
I wonder what we will find out. Most sit down restaurants offer hamburgers topping 1000, 1200, 1500 calories and more. French fries are often served in only one size–a lot. For years one restaurant offered French fries in only one serving size, a one pound basket. Now they offer “endless fries”.
The largest hamburger at McDonald’s yields 770 calories, the smallest at 210 calories. McDonald’s offers small, medium and large fries–ranging from 2.5 oz. (230 cal) to 5.4 ounces (500 cal) per serving.
OBESITY IS A FOOD PROBLEM, NOT A FAST FOOD PROBLEM
In all the criticism about fast food, it is easy to miss the bigger picture. Our entire food supply is incredibly abundant and adulterated. The increasing incidence of obesity and disease is overwhelming to anyone who understands the trends.
Is the answer to continue to denigrate every effort by McDonald’s as not good enough? I don’t think so.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee, many researchers and clinicians agree. The obesity problem is too big for any of us to solve on our own. I hear the call for all sectors of society to step up:
individuals, families, physicians and allied health professionals, public health advocates, policy makers, scientists and small and large businesses, including farmers, agricultural producers, food scientists , food manufacturers and food retailers of all kinds.
EVERY FOOD VENUE NEEDS TO STEP UP, BUT SO DOES GOVERNMENT
We need to address the issues of abundance and adulteration of the food supply at every point of purchase: supermarkets, convenience stores, food marts at gas stations and snacks offered in pharmacies and drug stores. We need to look at every sector of catering and restaurant industry, from quick service restaurants to fine dining. Every entertainment venue, food cart, food truck and vending machine deserves the same scrutiny.
But mostly we need the government to step up, specifically the USDA, the FDA, and the EPA. As long as problematic ingredients, additives, animal feed and husbandry practices, and farming practices are deemed safe and/or legal, the rest of the sectors are left to go it alone.
As for everyone wanting to believe that eliminating fast food is the answer, I would remind you that research colleagues in science labs tell us even the lab rats are getting bigger. What are they feeding the mice?
(1) The opinions expressed here are my own. This blog is not supported nor sponsored by any commercial interest.