The Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is smiling wide today. That's because McDonald's has decided to phase out listing soda on the Happy Meal section on menu boards.
As described in my recent Scoop on Food post, Will Fast Food Ever Be Health Food?, McDonald's pledged to—among other things—offer a choice of water, milk, or juice instead of soda as the beverage of choice in kids' Happy Meals. This pledge was the outgrowth of a partnership the fast food giant recently created with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation designed to help families make informed choices in the context of balanced lifestyles. Despite the promise, CSPI detectives noticed in the fine print of the agreement that soda could still be listed as an option on Happy Meal menu boards.
Known to not let such transgressions go unnoticed, a press release by CSPI's Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan accused both McDonald's and the Alliance of misleading the public and the media. In the press release, the CSPI also vowed to monitor the fast food chain's practices. They'd even consider suing McDonald's if it found soft drinks were mentioned in the Happy Meal section of menu boards or if employees offered soft drinks as an option with kids' meals.
Fortunately, the CSPI won't be calling a lawyer to sue McDonald's anytime soon. In a new statement , CSPI explains that after discussing concerns with McDonald's, its CEO agreed that listing soda on the Happy Meal section of menu boards wasn't consistent with McDonald's commitment.
We all know Americans guzzle down lots of soda and other sugary beverages. A new study published in American Journal of Preventive Health suggests that we may even consume more calories from added sugars in beverages than previously thought. The study estimated that Americans aged 2 and older consumed 171 calories (about 8% of total daily calories) per day from added sugars in sugar-sweetened beverages; soda, fruit drinks, tea, coffee, coffee, energy/sports drinks, and flavored milks were the top sources. Extra calories from soda can be a problem not only because they provide few nutrients, but because they leave less room in the diet for nutrient-rich foods and beverages that are needed in adequate supply to help kids grow.
To add insult to injury, a recent analysis of 32 studies—including 20 in children—published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (including soda) promotes weight gain in both children and adults.
Although soda will still be widely available, not having it promoted directly to kids and having other options at fast food restaurants will likely move us in a better direction when it comes to feeding kids. It may even help kids consume fewer calories and more nutrients depending on what beverage they choose in place of soda when they have fast food. If this initiative leads other fast food companies to follow suit—as encouraged by CSPI—this baby step may become a broad step to help kids improve their diet and reap the subsequent benefits.
Image of no soda zone via shutterstock.