Waistline-Friendly Fast Food?
More fast food chains and restaurants are jumping on the health food bandwagon. But are these lower-fat choices a whole-hearted effort to fight obesity?
McDonald's adult version of the Happy Meal, equipped with a
salad, an exercise booklet, and a pedometer to encourage walking, is among the
latest round of health-conscious offerings from fast food chains, restaurants,
and food suppliers. But are these well-intentioned attempts at heart-healthy
fare, or are these companies merely trying to prevent future battles with an
increasingly combative public?
McDonald's recently announced that it would begin working with
Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer, Bob Greene, to help give diners a
waistline-friendly option. This heart-healthy combo pack is just the latest in
more healthy alternatives at America's favorite eateries.
You may have heard about Kraft Foods' effort -- reportedly in
the works for years -- to "fight global obesity" by reducing the fat
content and portion sizes of its offerings.
Or maybe you read about the new partnership between Applebee's
and Weight Watchers, in which the popular restaurant chain will offer a menu of
leaner fare with the weight-loss company's trademark point system. That news
certainly got more attention than another just two weeks later on the return of
Applebee's all-you-can-eat Honey BBQ Rib Tips "campaign" complete with
beans, fries, and cole slaw.
There's PepsiCo alerting the media when it removed trans fats
from its Fritos and launched a new line of organic chips and Campbell Soup's
reminders to "eat smart" with its 31 soups containing fewer than 100
calories per serving. Even 7-Eleven, that snacking Shangri-La for those who
don't count calories, now boasts all-natural and low-fat chips next to its pork
rinds and just announced plans to offer new, no-calorie Slurpees.
Joining the War Against Obesity?
"I've spoken to some of these companies, and I believe most
are taking these actions in an attempt to be good social citizens -- knowing
full well that these campaigns will fail miserably," says John Stanton,
PhD, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University in
"It's well known in the food service industry that the best
way to kill the success of a new product is to put a heart symbol (indicating
it's low-fat) next to it on the menu," he tells WebMD. "And I can
certainly tell you that their customers aren't saying they want smaller
portions or are ordering Big Macs and fries and asking about trans fats. They
don't want these healthier options."
History suggests that he's right. There's the McLean burger,
whose name proved to be closely more related to levels of profits and customer
popularity than its fats and calories. And Taco Bell's Border Lights, whose
sales also quickly fell south-of-the-border. Even Applebee's, now basking in
the glow of its Weight Watchers-partnership media frenzy, had an earlier
attempt at low-fat fare in the 1990s that bombed.
"Yes, there were earlier efforts to have a designated
portion of our menu as lower fat or healthier fare that unfortunately didn't
take off," Applebee's spokesman Frank Ybarra tells WebMD. "But we think
part of that may have been issues with flavor and taste. Guests now expect that
items considered healthy need to also taste good. That used to not be the
perception of those items."