In Depth

Why McDonald’s Happy Meals are officially ‘healthy’

Fast-food children’s menu gets the green light from UK advertising watchdog

The UK’s advertising watchdog has ruled that McDonald’s Happy Meals do not count as a food product “high in fat, salt or sugar” (HFSS).

The Advertising Standards Agency made the ruling in response to a complaint that an ad for the fast-food restaurant’s kid’s menu shown between episodes of Peppa Pig breached UK advertising regulations aimed at cutting childhood obesity.

Since the new rules came into place in July last year, HFSS food and drink must not be promoted over any medium where more than 25% of its audience are likely to be under 16.

For instance, junk food ads cannot be broadcast on children’s TV shows or placed within 100 metres of a school.

In the case of the Happy Meal, specifically aimed at children, McDonald’s had little choice but to cut back on fat, sugar and salt.

In June, the fast-food chain added a grilled chicken wrap to its revamped Happy Meal menu, following a six-month consultation with users of parenting forum Mumsnet.

It is one of many changes to the formula, including the option to swap fries for a fruit bag or carrot sticks, as well as offering water, milk and fruit juice alongside fizzy drinks or milkshakes. The sugar content in drinks has been reduced, and fries are now served in a smaller portion than the restaurant’s standard “small” size.

“While customers can order products such as cheeseburgers, Coca-Cola and milkshakes with Happy Meals, McDonald’s does not feature them in its advertising,” says The Guardian.

In light of the revamped menu, the ASA concluded that the ad, which was shown on children’s television streaming service Ketchup TV in January, did not in fact break advertising rules.

“We noted that 80% of mains, 100% of sides and 64% of drink options available in the Happy Meal were non-HFSS products,” the watchdog said in its ruling. “We therefore considered that the Happy Meal was, overall, a non-HFSS product combination.”

However, the reasoning behind which ads can stay and which must go can be complex. An advertisement for Kellogg’s Coco Pops Granola was banned even though the product does not meet the definition of HFSS, because the ASA judged that the advert focused too heavily on the Coco Pops brand, primarily associated with its high-sugar cereal, The Independent reports.

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