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Fast Food Kids' Meals Still Unhealthy

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

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.

"A menu labeling provision that the industry strongly supported became law last year and will soon require calories on the menu in 200,000 restaurant locations nationwide," Dubost says. “Measures like this will help empower consumers, providing them with the detailed nutrition information they are looking for to make the best decisions for themselves and their families."

Both McDonald's and Burger King restated their commitments to responsible marketing.

"McDonald's remains committed to responsible marketing practices, including advertising and promotional campaigns for our youngest customers. Consistent with our 2006 commitment to the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Food Pledge, 100 percent of our children’s advertising in the U.S. features dietary choices that fit within the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans," Neil Golden, the senior vice president and Chief Marketing Officer of McDonald's USA, says in a statement. "We primarily advertise our popular 375 calorie four-piece Chicken McNugget Happy Meal which includes Apple Dippers, low-fat caramel dip, and a jug of 1-percent low fat milk."

Burger King had this to say: "As part of Burger King Corp.’s HAVE IT YOUR WAY® brand promise, we offer a variety of menu options that empower guests to choose items that are best for their lifestyle. In addition, as part of our BK Positive Steps® corporate responsibility program, in 2007, BKC pledged to restrict 100 percent of national advertising aimed at children under 12 to BK® Kids Meals that meet stringent nutrition criteria. BKC’s nutrition criteria for BK® Kids Meals (consisting of an entrée, side dish, and beverage) are based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other federal and scientifically established dietary recommendations and defined as [having] no more than 560 calories per meal [and] less than 30 percent of calories from fat."

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