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Dick Brennan’s Blog: Happy Meal redone

You can learn a lot from a Happy Meal. And now McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain by sales, continues to get lesson in how the new America works.
Mickey D’s is unveiling its new Happy Meal, with fruits and vegetables, borne out of pressure from interest groups who feel that the corporation’s vast servings of junk is in part to blame for an explosion in obesity in this country.
It is absolutely true that America is getting fatter, and so are our kids. All fancy math equations aside, it’s the point where excess weight becomes a serious health issue.
More than one third of adult Americans are obese. Incredibly, 17 percent of children ages 2-19, or 12.5 million kids, fall into this category.
This has been a dramatic development, over the course of one generation. In 1995, no state had an obesity rate over 20 percent. Now, all but one does. The state with the lowest rate, Colorado, with 19.8 percent, would have had the highest in 1995. (The current rate in New York State: 24.7 percent).
So what has changed in this country in a matter of sixteen years? For one thing, our meals are simply a lot bigger. Junk food servings come in monster sizes. Do you really need a 32 oz. container of Coke served at movie theaters?
In addition, people seem to think that they are somehow immune from gaining weight if they stay on a perpetual diet. (If you eat low-fat foods, you can eat more!) And then there are the diets that suggest six meals a day (there are supposed to be some small ones thrown in).
Food is available everywhere, at gas stations, at bookstores, at four in the morning. Every mall has a food court. (And people from other countries say a doggie-bag is a uniquely American concept).
And then there is the ultimate American invention, McDonald’s. It’s reported that three new McDonald’s open every day and that a corporate goal is to have no American more than four minutes from one of its restaurants (haven’t they reached that already?).
The corporation is the ultimate whipping boy for people who advocate a healthy lifestyle. But is it McDonald’s fault that our eating habits have become super-sized? Which came first, the ultra-large fries, or the person demanding them?
In September, McDonald’s will introduce the healthier Happy Meal, with fruits and veggies AND fries. The company had experimented with getting rid of the fries, but parents rebelled!
I have no objection to a healthier McDonald’s, or educating our kids about healthier eating. But when I was a kid, there was zero education, and much less obesity.
The answer in part lies with parents, the ones who stock homes with chips and cookies and ice cream, and who complain about their fat kids but won’t get off the couch to play with them. We would do well to stop blaming McDonald’s, and point the finger of blame where it belongs.
The cure for obesity sounds simple: Eat less, exercise more. Like the First Lady said, “Let’s Move.”

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