October 3, 2013

This post is written by Charmaine Ruddock MS. She directs Bronx Health REACH, a coalition of 50 community and faith-based organizations, funded by the Centers for Disease Control’s REACH 2010 Initiative to address racial and ethnic health disparities.  

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For anti-obesity advocates, the NY Times article last Friday, September 27th  covering  the announcement by McDonald’s  that they are planning to cut back on their marketing of  unhealthy food to children while  also planning to add fruits and vegetables to their adult menus, was a hard won victory in the ongoing war on obesity and the role fast food plays in that war.

One advocate taking credit for this victory is State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz who, in a press release from his office, said, “ Fast food restaurants are often the easiest and most inexpensive option for single-working parents; McDonald’s healthier menu items will benefit these families tremendously and demonstrates a willingness to take part in the movement of change.”   Other advocates that had a hand in this change are the Clinton Foundation and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation which itself is a brainchild of the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association.

For several years there have been small victories in this sector.  Most of us have seen the McDonalds ads with children drinking low fat milk and eating apple slices instead of French fries with their kids’ meals and we have seen the menu boards with the calorie listings.  The new changes which are supposed to be rolled out in the Corporation’s twenty largest markets will promote juice and water as well as low fat milk.

Happy Meals packaging will also include messages promoting in ‘fun ways’ the eating of fruits and vegetables. Let’s hope the ‘fun ways’ do not include still offering caramel dipping sauce for the apple slices as is currently the case.  For now I will keep my internal cynic firmly in check because I recognize that if McDonald’s is really serious about this change in direction of healthy marketing to children, and the offering of healthy menu items to both children and adults, the impact they can have in changing the way we eat as Americans will be enormous.

In addition, the impact could also be hugely significant on the farming sector that will be supplying the new food. Here in lies an opportunity for those suppliers to incorporate much of the new direction in healthy farm practices that have gained traction in the last five to ten years.  My fervent hope is that these changes represent the seismic shift that we have been hoping for in Americans and their fast food obsession, and McDonald’s place in that particular obsession.

This obsession was humorously illustrated in an article in today’s NY Times on a group of school children who, on a long planned school trip to historic civil rights sites in Atlanta, found many of the sites closed because of the  Federal government shut down.  As the children asked question after question about the closings – what was closed and what wasn’t….why were some places closed and not others – the teachers, as teachers often do, sought to turn the disappointing trip into a lesson about the workings of government.   In response to the last question, which, not surprisingly when children are involved, was about lunch, their teachers’ answered affirmatively that, “Yes, McDonald’s was still open”.

Yes, McDonald’s is still very much open and, apparently, now open to new and healthier menu choices.

  written by Charmaine Ruddock