Friday, December 08, 2006

McDonald's 'R Gym' Concept Just Another PR Stunt To Avoid Obesity Lawsuits

R U ready for McDonald's and their new "R Gym" exercise rooms?

Guess who's back in the news again as a heralded champion in the fight against childhood obesity? Yep, it's that bastion of nutritional and fitness goodness named McDonald's. They offer kids and parents the very best food money can buy for a healthy lifestyle like Big Macs, French fries, Coca-Cola, chocolate milkshakes, Chicken McNuggets, and so much more. I can't believe we have such an out-of-control obesity epidemic in this country with such a strong example coming from the Golden Arches!


But that's the EXACTLY the kind of image the corporate executives in the upper echelons of the McDonald's empire want people to have in their minds when they think about the world's #1 fast food restaurant chain. They have been working very diligently over the past year or so to shape and mold themselves as a company that truly cares about the overall health and well-being of its customer base.

You know, that's kinda like a drug dealer putting a filter on that marijuana cigarette he sells you to make it "better" for you. It's superficial change at best that still results in damage to your health. Nevertheless, McDonald's has certainly been trying to, I mean, convince the public that they have seen the error in their ways and are ready to make things right.

Here are just a few of the things they have done:

1. They encourage people this woman on a McDiet to counter the negative publicity they received from Morgan Spurlock and his "Super Size Me" movie and book. That unexpected hit film from a few years back has done more to expose Mickey D's than just about anything else in our culture. The heat was turned up on McDonald's yet again when Eric Schlosser's brand new film "Fast Food Nation" hit selected theaters in November 2006.

2. In a move that I applauded when it was first brought to light in late 2005, McDonald's is now printing the nutrition information on the packaging of the foods they sell. While critics complain that customers cannot see this information until AFTER they have purchased their meal, the fact is anyone can obtain this data anytime by visiting the McDonald's web site or referencing the big nutritional chart posted near the register inside the restaurant.

3. Many people were surprised to see in September 2006 for the first time in the history of McDonald's that they agreed to donate $2 million to childhood obesity and diabetes research. McDonald's claims they wanted to show the public that they are serious about helping to combat these issues and put their proverbial money where their mouth is.

Now we can add another element to the rebuilding of the McDonald's image with the introduction of their new "R Gym" concept. The days of kids playing around in a public pool of balls and crawling around in tubes like lab rats are numbered as a new generation of children will have a full workout activity room to climb a rock wall, ride on a stationary bike hooked up to a video game, and shoot some hoops--all while dining at McDonald's!

Click here to take a video tour of the "R Gym" in Santa Ana, CA.

McDonald's is dead serious about this and has already added an "R Gym" to selected units in California, Oklahoma, Colorado and Illinois. They hope to open many more in other states in the coming year based on the positive feedback they have been receiving from customers about the improved exercise facilities for kids.

Bill Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman quoted in the article, said the company has every intention of expanding the "R Gym" concept as long as there is a "benefit in it."

"We have for many years supported programs that promote physical activity, and we will continue to do that," he said.

While it is admirable that a company like McDonald's supports exercise as part of their business model, Mr. Whitman, there's only one problem with your company's position. You assume that weight gain is ONLY prevented through the implementation of physical activity and has nothing at all to do with a child's diet. Am I the only one who notices this glaring factual omission?

If McDonald's wants to get people like Julia Havey to stop wanting them to be sued, then perhaps they should rethink some of those menu items they believe are good for kids and adults to eat. Yet, not even the British McDonald's CEO thinks the company should be serving salads, but instead needs to focus more on selling bigger and bigger burger meal deals! What about all this supposed care and concern about obesity, McDonald's? Are all these PR stunts just for show?

Having a fun and exciting place like the "R Gym" for kids to look forward to when they visit McDonald's is a great way to market your product. But studies have shown that fried junk food consumption like French fries among children has doubled and the products served at places like McDonald's have been found to make people one-third fatter than if they didn't eat them.

With this knowledge, how about offering some menu items that children and adults can not only enjoy eating, but are also good for them as well, McDonald's? Company spokeswoman Jennifer Smith believes they already do with such menu items as low-fat milk and yogurt, for example.

"The R-Gym is just another example of McDonald's dedication to helping customers live balanced, active lifestyles," she said.

These people just don't get it, do they? We don't need to remove the fat out of everything McDonald's sells to make the food healthy. How about offering some low-carb and/or sugar-free options as well to reach a broader base of health-conscious consumers? Why does McDonald's refuse to cater to this segment of their customer base?

Here are just a very few suggestions off the top of my head:

1. Grilled chicken strips with green beans and a side salad
2. Hamburger steak and onions with cauliflower and a side salad
3. Breakfast bowl with eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheese
4. Sugar-free ice cream or cheesecake with berries
5. Ham or turkey w/cheese in low-carb wraps

These are a few very simple additions to the food selection at McDonald's that would attract people like me and others who support livin' la vida low-carb and healthy living. Why must we be subjected to the Dr. Dean Ornish-approved low-fat specialty salads that contain gobs of sugar or apple dippers that feature high-fructose corn syrup in the caramel dipping sauce as the "healthy" options at McDonald's? Fixing these major menu problems would go a lot further in showing the public that you mean business when it comes to tackling childhood obesity.

Upon hearing about this new concept at McDonald's, the "R Gym" may sound like a good idea because it encourages kids of all ages--with sections for toddlers, elementary school aged, and pre-teens--to move their bodies and shake off those calories they just consumed. But how many parents are actually going to just sit around inside of McDonald's for hours on end while their kids use the "R Gym?" Not many, which doesn't give kids much time to use these facilities in a meaningful way to burn very many calories.

I can see the following scenario playing out now:

Johnny finishes his meal and goes to play in the "R Gym."

Five minutes later...

MOM: "Johnny, drop the basketball it's time to go."

JOHNNY: "Aw, mom, can't I keep playing, this is so much fun."

MOM: "Did you eat all of your 9-piece Chicken McNuggets and fries?"

JOHNNY: "Yes, ma'am, and I even drank every drop of my large Coke, too!"

MOM: "That's good, but we need to go now. We'll be back again soon."

JOHNNY: "Oh, alright. Can I get the Big Mac meal next time?"

MOM: "Of course, honey, cause you'll play it off in the 'R Gym!'"

JOHNNY: "Yeeaaaah! I just LOVE McDonald's!"

You may be laughing at my fictitious interaction between a mother and her child, but somebody tell me that's not EXACTLY what is going to play out in the real world concerning these "R Gym" facilities. Even worse is the fact that kids will start whining and complaining to their parents about going to McDonald's to "play," so moms and dads will rationalize to themselves that eating there is healthy so their kids can get some exercise. Can you see how twisted this marketing ploy by McDonald's has become?

And then riddle me this, Batman: McDonald's is not in the business of offering a place for kids to just come hang out and play, are they? No, they're not. Instead, their goal is to make money off of selling millions upon millions of high-carb, high-sugar, junk foods that are quite literally destroying the health of kids long before they become adults and then keeping them that way once they reach adulthood.

Fast food addiction is very hard to break (I know because I used to visit McDonald's and other fast food restaurants more than five times a week!). But it is possible to lose your desire for those disgusting carb-loaded foods if you simply refuse to settle for putting junk in your body ever again. Believe me when I say it is so much more pleasurable to eat healthy than it is to eat fast food. Give it up for 30 days and start eating real food for once and you'll see what I mean.

As healthy as McDonald's is trying to make their restaurants appear to the consumer, the fact is they still peddle garbage food. Nobody will ever argue this point because it is a universal truth that everyone already agrees with. In other words, just because McDonald's has come up with the "R Gym," that is no reason to start bowing down to them as a great example of how to combat the growing obesity problem. They still have a LONG way to go.

Case in point is found in this Orange County Register column about the opening of one of these "R Gym" facilities at a local McDonald's there. In the middle of that page, you will see an "If you go" feature box that states the following:

"The McDonald's at 1526 W. Edinger Ave. in Santa Ana is celebrating the debut of the R Gym, as well as the restaurant's remodel, at 11 a.m. today. Ronald McDonald will be giving out free cookies and balloons."

Ronald is giving out sugar-infested cookies, oh joy! That's REALLY healthy, isn't it? It's the irony of all ironies--opening a kids mini-gym and celebrating that by giving out free cookies. UGH! And we wonder why childhood obesity lingers!

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Blogger Lili said...

McDonald's yogurt isn't so bad carb-wise (not for low carbers of course), so I will give them that. But they freeze the yogurt so it's not active. Where's the health benefit there?

12/08/2006 8:38 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

You are right on the money here, Jimmy. It's extremely simple for McDonalds to make some easy changes in their offerings, like the ones you suggested. How about adding some breakfast low-carb, high-protein and sugar free shakes to that? Very simple.

But like you so correctly observed, in reality they are not interested at all in really healthy foods, because the junk they peddle is highly addictive, as they very well realize, and thus -they reason- will continue to boost turnover and profits.

Of course it's understandable that they want to turn a healthy profit.

What keeps amazing me is the fact that McDonalds' management keeps failing to see that they could easily double or even triple their turnover and profits if they would indeed offer nutrionally sound meals and snacks.

Peddling a low-fat yoghurt (which is, incidentally, a bad choice for anyone, low-carber or not as it impairs nutrient absorption due to the lack of fat) doesn't help at all.

But if they would add truly low-carb versions of their popular offerings (minus the fries, of course) they would, after a short while, see their sales double as they are then able to cater the entire market - including (educated) health conscious consumers. This would work even if those products were higher priced.

Somehow the message is not getting through at the management level. They are still listening to idiots like Ornish (and their own worthless, out-of-touch fat-phobic nutritionists) and not paying attention to the vast mountains of extremely relevant nutritional science. In other words: McDonalds, just like KFC (who recently "proudly" switched from shortenings to soybean oil as a "healthy" alternative) are quickly becoming dinosaurs - too big and too stupid to change.

One day that shortsighted policy will backfire in a big way. History shows that enterprises, no matter how big and powerful they may be at the moment, can get into serious trouble real quick when they are not in touch with reality: intentionally or not.

As long as the fat-phobists rule in such companies they are heading for all kinds of serious trouble. Personally, I can't wait to see that happen because that will be the only thing that forces them to change for the better.

12/09/2006 1:39 AM  
Blogger Lady Atkins said...

>3. Breakfast bowl with eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheese<

I think Carl's Jr. (aka Hardees in some parts of the country) already has something like this.

12/10/2006 10:18 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

You're right, Lady Atkins, Hardee's does have this on their menu and McDonald's should follow suit.

12/10/2006 10:31 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Missed this post until today!!!

My problem with MacD's is the fat they apparently use on everything.

The chicken is apparently cooked in it, as is the meat....I guess it's what they use to grease the grill?

Whatever it is, until they stop using it, I cannot stomach any of the food at MacD's. Fresh fruit and veggies? Fine....but none of the cooked food.

12/30/2006 7:56 PM  

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