McDonald’s made waves late last week with a big announcement that it will soon offer salads or fruit as side choices instead of fries.
Aside from the new, healthier sides, which won’t incur any additional charges over what fries would normally cost, the chain is also going to push low-fat milk, juice and water in its kids’ Happy Meals. It’s going to take some time to roll out all these healthier options, with the company’s 20 biggest markets all due to get them by 2020.
The move comes as part of former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative, a think-tank-y charity-type thing designed to “create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges,” as per its website. Obesity would be one of those.
McDonald’s effort is a noble one to be sure, but I’m wondering if anyone has stopped to think through the long-term effects of what it might mean. For one thing, it’s entirely possible the chain’s pushing of fruits and veggies could actually have the inverse desired effect, causing kids to eat even less of them.
Consider that McDonald’s is the largest buyer of several kinds of food items in the world, including beef (more than a billion pounds a year) and potatoes. With more than 33,000 restaurants in 118 countries, the company has the power to sway wholesale prices of those items.
And it does so regularly. Take its recently introduced Mighty Wings for example (check out my review later this week). Analysts figure McDonald’s caused wholesale chicken wing prices to rise between 8 and 10 cents per pound after it launched the option in the United States.
With the company pushing fruits and veggies, demand on those items is going to go up. And with more demand from the chain, prices are also likely to increase, which will make it even more expensive for families to buy them in the grocery store. Many unhealthy processed foods, which already cost less than fresh produce, will look even more appealing to cash-strapped shoppers.
That’s bad news because a number of studies have found that price increases on healthier foods have direct links to rising obesity. As the report in that link puts it:
Our findings suggest that increases in the real price of one calorie in food for home consumption and the real price of fast-food restaurant food lead to improvements in obesity outcomes among youths. We also find that an increase in the real price of fruits and vegetables has negative consequences for these outcomes.
So, unless kids start eating more of their meals – and vegetables – at McDonald’s, the chain’s adoption of healthier options could indeed backfire and cause more unhealthy eating in the home, leading to even more obesity. Doh?
On the plus side, potatoes lovers will likely rejoice since it looks like spuds will be getting cheaper thanks to lower demand.