Updated 30 September 2013

McDonald's aims for healthier food by 2020

McDonald's has announced that it is serious about addressing global obesity and has vowed to offer healthier choices worldwide by 2020.

McDonald's, the world's largest fast food chain, says it is to tackle the global obesity epidemic.

The announcement comes as more companies respond to government and consumer pressure to address the issue.

McDonald's, which often bears the brunt of criticism over the restaurant industry's penchant for tempting diners with indulgent and often high-calorie food, said it would offer the option in all of its 20 major global markets by 2020.

The company also vowed to promote and market only water, milk and juice as the beverages in its popular Happy Meals for children as part of its announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting held in New York .

Calorie counts

Waist sizes around the world are increasing, setting off alarms in public health circles.

The US food industry has in recent years begun yielding to pressure from the government, parents and consumers seeking to slim down adults and children.

Sugary sodas have been yanked from public schools; sugar, sodium and calorie levels have been reduced in products and calorie counts have been posted on some restaurant menus.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit organisation that has tangled with McDonald's over everything from fattening food to the marketing of Happy Meals, approved of the company's move to add more fruits and vegetables to the menu.

Forced change

The centre, says, though that the company and its rivals have a long way to go in terms of offering healthier options.

"McDonald's slow march toward healthier meals has made a major advance, but a long road lies ahead for the company," it said.

McDonald's is seen as something of a trend setter among restaurant chains, but like many of its peers, it has tended to resist external efforts to force change.

McDonald's about a year ago said it would begin listing calorie information on menus in about 14 000 US restaurants and drive-throughs – ahead of a national rule that would require larger restaurant chains to make such disclosures.

It tweaked its popular Happy Meals for children in July 2011, reducing the french fries portion by more than half and adding apples to every order. The move came after pressure from various sources, such as parent groups and the Centre for Science.

Lifestyle choices

More than one-third of Americans are obese, and about 10% of the nation's healthcare bill is tied to obesity-related illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

McDonald's said its announcement was part of a plan developed with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which was founded by the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, to increase customers' access to fruit and vegetables and help families and children to make informed eating and lifestyle choices.


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