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Health & Parenting

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Fast Food Kids' Meals Still Unhealthy

Despite Pledges, Kids Often Offered Unhealthy Fare at Most Fast Food Restaurants

Bait and Switch? continued...

Other options aimed at curbing marketing unhealthy food choices to kids include the recent San Francisco ban on giving away toys with unhealthy children's meals.

"The goal is not take the happy out of happy meal, but to put the happy and healthy together," she says. "It's nice that some companies have changed their advertising, but we need to address all ways that they market to kids," Wootan says.

"It is great that they show apples and low-fat milk in advertising, but a child sees an ad for McDonald's and no matter what food is in the ad, it's an ad to go to McDonalds, and once they get to the restaurant almost all of possible kids' meal combinations are unhealthy and they automatically come with french fries and sugary drinks," she tells WebMD.

Mystery Shopping Experiment

Rudd researchers took it one step further and sent mystery shoppers to various fast food restaurants to see if they were offered healthy options with their meals.

All fast food restaurants except Subway seemed to offer an unhealthy side or drink as the default, and if there was a choice, the unhealthy options were first on the list. Specifically, McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Taco Bell automatically served french fries or another unhealthy side dish 84% of the time, the study shows.

Subway offered milk, flavored milk, or 100% juice, plus apple slices or yogurt with the kids meals 60% of the time, the new report showed.

"You have to work very hard to get a healthy side and drink in kids’ meals," says Marlene Schwartz, Rudd's deputy director.

Fast Food Industry Responds

"There can be no dispute that that the restaurant industry has been committed to providing a growing array of nutritious offerings for children," says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, the National Restaurant Association's Director of Nutrition and Healthy Living, in a statement. "Numerous surveys show the increasing number of healthful options in kids’ meals, and nutritious offerings in children's meals is the number one food trend in quick-service restaurants. The industry has also led the way in advocating that nutrition information be made available to consumers in chain restaurants," she says.

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