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International: Big Mac bid to keep 'em fit and active

29-May-2004
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International: Big Mac bid to keep 'em fit and active

Walking into a McDonald's restaurant will no longer be a guilt-ridden exercise for health-conscious but time-starved American adults with the food service retailer unveiling an unprecedented initiative that seeks to change consumer eating habits and put the country back in fitness mode.

Go Active, a multi-year project being taken up at an undisclosed cost to the company, comes at a time when the US Government is seriously concerned about obesity which is acquiring the dimensions of a national epidemic and seeking help from the private sector to resolve the problem. While a 1999 report of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 16 per cent of the country's adults were overweight or obese, the figure is believed to have shot past the 30 per cent mark now. The Government holds it responsible for some 3,00,000 deaths every year.

McDonald's, meanwhile, is gearing up for a massive consumer education programme that will lead to better food choices and an active lifestyle. And in keeping with the thought that kids model themselves on adult behaviour, the company has kicked off Project Go Active! by targeting its adult consumers who now have a brand new, healthier menu in store at its restaurants.

Adults walking into its outlets and cringing at the thought of super-sized portions of fries and jumbo, calorie-ridden burgers can now expect better.

Exercise physiologist Mr Bob Greene, who is also celebrity chat-queen Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer, was roped in for the new project to undertake a 36-day `American Challenge' awareness trek across the country, which was to end earlier this week. An estimated10-15 million stepometers and walk/fitness booklets were to be distributed as part of the project.

The company is also planning to go healthy on its kids' menu - this segment perhaps being its largest money-grosser. An all-new Happy Meal menu will allow consumers to mix and match its menu to get the maximum nutrition advantage. The menu will now offer healthier options such as Apple Dipper, fresh, sliced apples served up with low-fat caramel dip sauce and beverages such as pure apple juice and white or chocolate milk served in child-friendly containers.

Weight-watchers or those aspiring to go on a diet can also order their sandwiches and burgers `low-carb style' (without the bun). Consumers will also have more food for thought at McDonalds which will use tray-liners and in-store brochures that will help them order in a way calculated to reduce fat, calories and carbohydrates.

The restaurants will also test providing nutrition information within its outlets in parent-approved, child-friendly ways and its Web site features a Bag-a-McMeal that allows visitors to order a meal online and get instant information on its nutritional value.

The move could not come at a better time from the company, which runs some 3,00,000 restaurants worldwide serving 46 million people. American consumers are increasingly putting pressure on corporates to make the food they eat healthier and less calorie-ridden. Companies such as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are under pressure due to the demand for low-carb, low-calorie food that is gaining by leaps and bounds. And even as the Government is grappling with the situation, companies such as insurance provider Pacific Life are already giving out stepometers to its employees in a bid to kick-start a fitter employee force.

McDonald's is also set to roll out a new SaladPlus menu which fuelled a 5 per cent growth in European markets such as the UK and Germany and hopes to introduce it across 14 other European locations by end-May.

Will consumers in India, where the brand is hugely popular, especially amongst kids, get a taste of the new happy meal, healthier menu? Not for now, a spokesperson for the company told Business Line. . "We have no plans at the moment of taking this programme outside of the US where it has been launched only last week."

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