McDonald's, Alliance for Healthier Generation, misled public and media re: soda and Happy Meals

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Statement of CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan

*Update: 10/11/2013: McDonald's later clarified its policy related to soda and Happy Meals.  See CSPI statement.  

McDonald’s and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation misled the media, CSPI, and families when they stated that the company would not feature, promote, or market soda in connection with Happy Meals. In briefings to health groups and in their press release and full-page newspaper ads, McDonald’s and the Alliance claimed that the company would “promote and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising.” But small print in McDonald’s formal agreement with the Alliance states that “McDonald’s may list soft drinks as [sic] offering on [sic] Happy Meal section of menu boards.”

Reporters and the public were misled when not provided with that salient detail. McDonald’s must now try to regain the public’s trust by apologizing to former President Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative for using that prestigious forum to mislead the public about the company’s commitment.

Small print aside, McDonald’s commitment to the public, as expressed clearly in its ads and press release, is to not promote soft drinks with Happy Meals or feature them on menu boards. CSPI will be monitoring McDonald’s practices and will consider suing the company if it mentions soft drinks in the Happy Meal section of menu boards or any other type of marketing, or if servers offer soft drinks as an option with the meals. We hope that McDonald’s keeps its commitment, as it did not do in 2003 when it said that it would stop frying its foods in oil containing trans fat. In fact, it took a lawsuit to get McDonald’s to eventually keep that commitment.

Of course, taking soda off of the Happy Meal section of menu boards wouldn't have prevented a parent from ordering a soda. But it would have sent a strong signal that soda, which promotes obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, is not an appropriate drink for young children.