McDonald's isn't exactly the epitome of healthy food, but the famous Happy Meals do more than add fat and calories to kids' diet. They are an aggressive marketing tool that gets kids hooked not only on the unhealthy food, but on the toys inside the box and visiting the fast food chain on a regular basis. Happy Meals seek to make McDonald's profits bigger while creating a generation of dependent kids who want their parents to keep bringing them back to the fast food restaurant.
A recent article in Huffington Post titled, “11 Unsettling Facts You Should Know About McDonald’s Happy Meals,” editor Renee Jacques outlined the unhealthy foods and marketing tricks little kids are being exposed to in the Happy Meals. One shocker, McDonald’s is the largest distributor of toys in the world.
The average person might think Toys R Us or Wal-Mart holds this title, but no, a fast food chain does. McDonald’s gives away 1.5 billion toys globally each year. 90% of children between the ages of 3 and 9 eat at McDonald’s at least monthly. And each Happy Meal has a small toy inside.
For a decade, Disney partnered with McDonald’s. Whenever a new Disney movie hit theaters, little toys hit the McDonald’s Happy Meals. from 1996 – 2006, Nemo, Mr. Incredible, and 101 Dalmatians were some of the characters included in Happy Meals. In 2006, Disney ended its promotional agreement with McDonald’s because it has built a reputation for “being family friendly, and wanted to distance itself from the epidemic of childhood obesity. (Boston Globe, May 8 2006.)
Another interesting fact, “The healthier Happy Meals at McDonald's are still pretty bad for kids.” In 2011, McDonald’s revamped the Happy Meal by adding fresh sliced (but packaged) apples to the boxed meal. The apples came with a caramel dipping sauce which was dropped when critics pointed out the empty calories and sugar content.
The size of the fries was cut from 2.4 ounces to 1.1 ounces. An average Happy Meal contains 600 calories, which is still too high for little kids. Most of those calories are empty and the meal is low in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. All important things in a child’s diet.
Since these changes, sales of Happy Meals have declined. Unfortunately, kids are just eating off the Dollar Menu. Launched in 2002, the McDonald’s Dollar Menu offers menu items including burgers, chicken nuggets, ice cream, and cookies. Kids are getting the same food devoid of nutrition just without the fancy box and free toy.