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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: Happy Meals get a bit healthier

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  • The McDonald's Happy Meal has been a part of generations of kids' lives. Parents around the world have been directed to Mickey D's by the zombie-like relentless assault of their children to get the latest collectible in those prized boxes. Starting November 1, however, kids are in for a surprise. Last week McDonald's announced that Happy Meals will feature books, not toys. Books?! Is this a trick? A treat? Did Halloween come early? What's next? Will Santa deliver fruit?
    The iconic Happy Meal, what do you know? T or F?
    1. It was introduced in 1959. 2. The first featured a circus wheel theme. 3. Cars are the most popular toy.
    The Happy Meal was introduced in 1979 with a circus wheel theme. Since then billions have been sold worldwide. In Quebec kids order Joyeux Festin, the Happy Feast. In Puerto Rico it is known as Cajita Feliz, the Happy Little Box. Chicken nuggets are preferred over burgers. Barbie and Hot Wheels cars have always been popular. But when Teeny Beanie Babies were offered in 1997, over 100 million Happy Meals were sold, the most of any promotion. McDonald's often ties Happy Meals to kids' movies including “Star Trek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” They know from kids.
    When first introduced, the Meal had over 600 calories. Today, responding to concerns about childhood obesity a four-nugget Meal, with apple slices and 1 percent milk has less than 400 calories. Through the years, McDonald's has altered its menu to reflect a consumer demand (parent, not kid) for more nutritious offerings such as fruit, salad and yogurt. Earlier this year they announced they would not advertise soda pop as an option for Happy Meals, touting instead milk, juice and water. They do, however, still offer soda pop for the Meals.
    The new Happy Meals will give kids the choice of four different books, all providing information about nutritious food choices. These are original books and will be available for two weeks, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 14. Some predict that over 20 million books will be distributed in the month of November. If so McDonald's will be the largest publisher of children's books in the United States. Not Random House. Not HarperCollins. McDonald's! For perspective, 15 million copies of the Hunger Games trilogy were sold in 2012.
    “The Goat Who Ate Everything” features a goat that learns about wise food choices and good nutrition. “Deana's Big Dreams” is about a dinosaur that is small but grows big and tall by making healthful eating habits.
    McDonald's indicates that this will not be a one-time offering but part of a sustained plan to offer books and nutrition information to kids. McDonald's as part of a public health plan? Truth is stranger than fiction. Further, McDonald's says that it wants to promote literacy. The November 1 launch deliberately coincides with National Literacy Day.
    Page 2 of 2 - I predict that kids will continue to go to McDonald's for Happy Meals toys or no toys. If they get a book and learn about good nutrition and healthful food choices, then I am all for it. Now, if we can just figure out exactly what's in those chicken nuggets.
    Answers: 1. F; 2. T; 3. F.
    Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.

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