In an effort to assuage health-conscious customers and critics, McDonald's announced that it will be tweaking its "kid-friendly" Happy Meals -- a popular menu option before becoming a target of concerned parents and health advocates.
The Happy Meal will see subtle changes involving smoke-and-mirrors. In place of two calorie-dense options -- chocolate milk and cheeseburgers -- will be plain, cheese-free hamburgers and bottled water to dial back the total calorie count to 600 calories or fewer.
The cheese in McDonald's cheeseburger adds an extra 50 calories and 3 grams of fat, pushing the total calorie limit just out of reach on the new Happy Meal calorie target. And to discourage kids (and assenting parents) from ordering chocolate milk, bottled water will take its place as the Happy Meal beverage. Chocolate milk, although not officially listed as an option, will still be available to swap at no additional charge; the same applies to the cheeseburger.
The menu reconfiguration, which will fully roll out by June 2018, applies to U.S. locations only and will follow other key changes.
According to McDonald's new global Happy Meal goals, the restaurant will simplify ingredients by reducing artificial preservatives "wherever feasible." The low-cal goals, to take effect by 2020, also include transparency -- making nutritional information visible online and in store -- as well as responsible marketing for Happy Meals that will meet "new nutritional standards." The specifics of those standards remain to be seen.
Over the years, the fast-food giant has taken steps to diminish its junk-food image: swapping high-sugar apple juice for one with reduced sugar, adding sliced apples to its kid's menu, cutting back on the size of its fries. But McDonald's pivot toward healthier dining options -- amidst the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. -- is a band-aid solution to a larger problem for Americans' health and wellness issue. McDonald's is by no means "healthy."
Despite the CDC reporting that child and adolescent obesity nearly tripled since the 1970s, America is shifting toward healthier options, with soda consumption plummeting and bottled water sales rising. Recent statistics show more people are paying closer attention to food labels and turning to healthier, natural food options, and according to Forbes, America's soda consumption continues to plummet.