by Jan Baughman
(Swans - March 12, 2012) As the childhood obesity epidemic, with its related morbidity, continues to spread unabated, McDonald's stepped up to the plate this week and introduced a bold new campaign -- heretofore not endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama -- to promote an active lifestyle and to "help make nutrition fun for kids," an effort to sell more "Happy Meals" while making parents feel they are doing right by their children. It is as legitimate as beer producers telling us to drink responsibly while telling us their beer will make any occasion more enjoyable, or cigarette makers warning us of the dangers of smoking as they peddle their wares.
The bold new TV ad campaign will "support McDonald's nutrition commitment to promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of its national communications to kids." In other words, you can have your cake and eat it too. The new "Happy Meal" will include apple slices, and kid-size fries, and they can choose fat-free (not sugar-free) chocolate milk ("an excellent source of happiness") instead of a soda! But just how happy is this new, balanced meal?
Those Chicken McNuggets ("white boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning [autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid], sodium phosphates, natural flavor (botanical source. Batter and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, bleached wheat flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, dextrose, corn starch)" pack 190 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 360 milligrams of sodium. Dunk them in Spicy Buffalo Sauce and the calories are increased to 220, the fat to 15 grams, and the sodium content to 900 milligrams.
The new "kid-sized" fries -- "Golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. Made with quality potatoes and cooked on our Canola oil blend for zero grams of trans fat per serving. Now that's an epic bite." -- consist of "potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and mild derivatives], citric acid [preservative], dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent." The fries add 100 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 70 milligrams of sodium to the happy meal.
And that chocolate milk? Add another 130 calories, no fat, 22 grams of sugar, and another 135 milligrams of sodium. Last but not least throw in a few apple slices to create the appearance of a balanced meal. Adding all this up, and the "Happy Meal" is delivering 450 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 1105 milligrams of sodium. Now, you can go to the McDonald's Web site to view (pdf) the nutritional content of each item. Taking sodium as an example, they indicate that Chicken McNuggets comprise 38% of the daily recommended intake (DRI). Problem is, they assume that the DRI for sodium is 2400 milligrams -- an amount recommended for adults, not children (actually, the adult DRI in the U.S. is 2300). The recommended DRI of sodium for children age 4-8 is 1200-1900, meaning that the actual sodium content of Chicken McNuggets is 47-75% of the DRI, and the complete Happy Meal, at 1105 milligrams of sodium, accounts for 58-92% of the DRI.
In order to fully research this article, I decided that I should try a Happy Meal. I chose the Chicken McNuggets (I couldn't bring myself to the dipping sauce) with non-fat chocolate milk. The fried chicken pucks were an unrecognizable texture; there were 20 salty fries; apple slices sealed in plastic and preserved with calcium ascorbate -- 4 small slices, not even a quarter of an apple; and sickly sweet chocolate milk. The perfect combination of fried food, salt, and sugar that fast food companies know is addicting. At $4.42, it may be fast, but it's not food, and it's definitely not nutritional. A simple sandwich and piece of fruit would cost less and do more for children's well being. Except that homemade meal doesn't come with a free "My Little Pony" toy if you're a girl, or a Transformer if you're a boy.
Now, on one level, you have to hand it to McDonald's. They (along with Burger King and Taco Bell) agreed to stop buying "pink slime" to make their hamburgers. Pink slime was named for the ground beef that the company Beef Products Inc. produces, which according to the daily.com is "[m]ade by grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food and rendering, BPI's Lean Beef Trimmings are then treated with ammonia hydroxide, a process that kill pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. The resulting pinkish substance is later blended into traditional ground beef and hamburger patties." However, pink slime is still good enough for school lunches, as the US Department of Agriculture "plans to buy 7 million pounds of Lean Beef Trimmings from BPI in the coming months for the national school lunch program." If it's good enough for our dogs, it must be good enough for our children. Add that to the pizza and fries that Congress refuses to ban because of corporate pressure and you have a recipe for disaster. And what of the kids who eat pink slime by day and Happy Meals by night?
If we're willing to succumb to the corporate propaganda that manipulates what we eat and what we feed our children; if we continue to accept a system in which corporations thrive at the expense -- financial and otherwise -- of their consumers; if we repeatedly vote for a government whose agencies purchase chemical-laden dog food, pizza, and fries for school lunches, then we're just as responsible for the harmful effects. As the sayings go, we get what we pay for, and we are what we eat. And after eating that so-called Happy Meal, my insides are feeling a bit like pink slime.
Jan Baughman asks you all: Please,Swans financially.
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