Critics: Putting Fitness Trackers In McDonald’s Happy Meals Doesn’t Make Them Healthy Meals

Image courtesy of @iPadforCollege

Putting on a fitness tracker doesn’t magically change your body; it’s just another accessory if it goes unused. That’s why critics of McDonald’s latest Happy Meal shake-up don’t seem terribly impressed.

For a limited-time McDonald’s Happy Meals sold in the U.S. and Canada will include a “step-it” tracker, USA Today reports, noting that the device’s inclusion in the kids’ meal is part of a promotional campaigned aimed at getting kids on the move.

The trackers count steps and light up based to how quickly or slowly the wearer is moving.

While the idea of getting kids up and moving is laudable, offering such a device with calorie-filled meals sends a bit of a mixed message, according to health advocates.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells Consumerist that the new toy could be considered a type of “health washing” or diversion from McDonald’s food.

“Giving away the tracker is more about health washing and making Happy Meals seem healthier than it is about making a real contribution about kids’ activity levels,” she said.

“McDonalds should stay in it’s lane,” she added. “If it wants to address kids health it should do that in actual meals.”

This isn’t the first time McDonald’s has attempted to take a more healthful approach to children’s food, and the toys that come with it.

Back in 2013, the chain added books about healthy eating to Happy Meals for a limited time.

And as Wootan noted to Consumerist, the chain has taken steps to revamp its Happy Meal offerings.

The fast food giant reduced the portion of fries that come in the meals, while also offer the addition of either fruit — apple slices and clementines — and Go-Gurt as sides. That means the meals come with an entree — hamburger, nuggets — as well as fries and fruit.

Additionally, in 2013, the chain stopped pushing sodas with Happy Meals. Last summer, the fast food giant said fewer Happy Meals were being ordered with sodas.

At the time, the restaurant said — based on a self-completed survey — that 48% of Happy Meal orders go out with sodas as a beverage in the U.S. since the sugary beverages were scrubbed from menus, displays and advertising for Happy Meals between July 2014 and May 2015.

Most recently, the Golden Arches announced it would remove artificial preservatives from its McNuggets, a popular Happy Meal option.

“McDonald’s has taken more steps than some companies. They have made some positive choices, but it still has a lot of work to do before parents should consider the meal healthy,” she said, adding that CSPI would like to see the company add a bottle of water as a beverage option to the kids’ meal menu.

[via USA Today]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.