Mark Bittman has a piece on NYT's Diners Journal blog that looks at "efforts" by McDonald's to be, as it's CEO Jim Skinner said, "part of the solution" to the obesity crisis. Bittman looked at a Yale Rudd Center study that examined thousands of meals from fast food restaurants and compared them to the government's Institute of Medicine guidelines for nutritional quality. What did he find?:
The Rudd Center study found that out of a possible 3,039 kids’ meal combinations at the 12 restaurants – that’s one main dish, one side dish, and one beverage – only twelve meals (0.4 percent) meet all three nutritional requirements for preschool-age-children, and only 15 meals ( 0.5 percent) meet all three for elementary-school-age children. Of the 189 possible Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals at McDonald’s, none meet all three nutritional requirements. Subway and Burger King are the only restaurants with meals that meet the standard. In discussing McDonald’s’ part in the obesity solution, Mr. Skinner wisely points to the apple slices – though he does not mention the caramel dipping sauce – and the 1 percent milk. Those two items, which are the only side dish and beverage pictured in the kids’ meals sections of the McDonald’s Web site, easily meet the nutritional requirements of the study.There are two problems, though. The first is that apple slices and a glass of milk do not make a complete meal. As soon as you tack on a main dish, the combination automatically becomes unhealthy for children. The second problem is that based on the visits recorded in the study, more than 80 percent of the time McDonald’s employees did not offer a choice of side dishes to customers who ordered kids’ meals and more than half of the time employees did not offer a choice of beverage. On the occasions that no choices were offered, French fries and a soft drink were provided by default. All in all, more than 90 percent of the side dishes received were French fries, and more than 75 percent of the beverages received were soft drinks.