Getting Lil Tubby to eat better
by Kelvin Wade
Come this fall, McDonald’s will be serving apple slices along with a reduced portion of French fries in their Happy Meals. The company is taking this action to stave off any move to regulate its offerings in the wake of America’s increasing obesity rate. The Golden Arches are sensitive to being portrayed in any way as contributing to the rounding of America.
The company claims they’re making the move due to customer feedback. Really? According to the company, while 88 percent of customers know about the current option to have apple slices instead of French fries, only 11 percent of customers opt for apples.
Their own data shows that customers aren’t making the healthy choice now. It’s a no brainer. McDonald’s French fries vs. apple slices? Even adults are going to opt for the fries. What do you expect a kid to do?
Cities like San Francisco and Santa Clara have banned toys from being given away with Happy Meals to make them less appealing to youngsters. I can understand the motivation. But turning Happy Meals into Unhappy Meals isn’t going to make a dent in childhood obesity rates. McDonald’s can sell a Happy Meal with a veggie burger, apple slices and skim milk and kids just won’t buy it.
I can see little Tubby just opting for an Extra Value Meal and having Mom hit the Dollar Store for the toy they didn’t get at McDonalds.
Even if McDonald’s did away with French fries completely in their Happy Meals, little Tubby is going to whine to Mommy and Mommy, being the jello-spined squishy mom she is, will buy him an extra French fry to go with his Happy Meal.
Parents who are regularly buying their kids Happy Meals aren’t likely to be serving that child fruits and veggies at home so don’t expect Ronald McDonald to be able to get that child to eat them.
Critics of this latest move say that McDonald’s isn’t going far enough. But there comes a point of diminishing returns. McDonald’s isn’t in business to lose money. If serving up healthy food made them more money, they’d be all over it. But they know the truth. Eleven percent are opting for apples. As I’ve said before, we want food that’s cheap, fast and delicious, and that’s what they serve. If they can tinker around the edges and make healthier fare to help placate the health lobby, they will.
But there’s a sure-fire way to get parents to buy less Happy Meals and that’s by raising the price of them. Getting rid of dollar menus and taxing fast food will impact the numbers. People aren’t going to quit eating junk just because it’s more expensive but they will eat less of it. Even someone as addicted to cheeseburgers as I am would buy less of them if they were more expensive.
This is the perfect kind of tax because no one is required to eat fast food so it’s an optional tax. It will generate a lot of revenue because Americans aren’t giving up their fast food. It will discourage overconsumption as taxes do.
Until the fat tax becomes reality, fast food restaurants will continue to try to offer healthier fare to a public that calls for it out of one side of their mouths and stuffs French fries in the other side.
Despite my skepticism, I hope the gambit works. I hope kids across America will develop a taste for apples.
And if parents would treat fast food places as a once in awhile treat and not a regular stop for meals for their kids, kids will be far better off.