Activity toys with Happy Meals and vouchers for sport sessions part of fast food giant’s drive to dispel unhealthy image
In the wake of a fresh wave of criticism over its involvement as an Olympics sponsor, McDonald’s has unveiled a large-scale promotional push that it claims will make children healthier.
The fast-food giant plans to give away 9m “activity toys” with its Happy Meals aimed at children as part of a “Mascotathon” campaign. The gadgets will measure how many steps or jumps the recipient makes in a day, with children encouraged to log on to an online game that translates their actions into energy for Games mascots Wenlock and Mandeville.
A second wave of activity during the Games will give away vouchers for free sport sessions as part of a marketing strategy that will aim to counter criticism of its role.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges this week demanded “bold and tough” measures to curb childhood obesity, including a ban on firms such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola from sponsoring sporting events such as the Olympics.
As a top-tier International Olympic Committee sponsor, McDonald’s will provide the only branded food in the Olympic Park and the Athlete’s Village, including its largest restaurant in the world.
The company said its campaign, promoted by a regional tour by the London 2012 mascots around its outlets, would have a positive effect on children’s health. “It will take the Olympics out of London and make sure kids can get involved and have some fun,” said Jo Burnett, McDonald’s head of UK marketing.
Professor Paul Gately, Carnegie professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Metropolitan University, said: “When you look at the significant engagement and reach McDonald’s has, that provides a really great platform. It also really understands customers and how to talk to them. By providing them with the right information, McDonald’s is capable of switching kids on to physical activity and exercise, much more than what we’ve seen in previous public health campaigns. It can really contribute to the legacy objectives of 2012.”
Professor Gately, a member of McDonald’s “global advisory council”, said that while there were questions about the government’s “responsibility deals” with the corporate sector, the McDonald’s campaign should be embraced because it provided a route to large numbers of people. “Without public-private partnership we are not going to address these issues about the promotion of physical activity or healthy eating or tackling obesity. We can’t deal with one dimension independently from everything else,” he said.
“Rather than standing over the other side of the fence throwing things, I’d rather see how we can be effective at engaging with children and young people.”
The vice-president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Professor Terence Stephenson, said last weekend that the involvement of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s in the Games was “most unhelpful”.
“One of the biggest events we’re ever going to see in the UK – all those people watching TV and going through the doors will be seeing this. People must be influenced by it, or why would Coca-Cola spend a lot of money to be at the Olympics?” he said.