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Healthier happy meals

Date:
December 19, 2013
Source:
Cornell Food & Brand Lab
Summary:
What would happen if a fast-food restaurant reduces the calories in a children's meal by 104 calories, mainly by decreasing the portion size of French fries? Would children compensate by choosing a more calorie dense entrée or beverage? Researchers analyzed transaction data from 30 representative McDonald's restaurants to answer that question.

What would happen if a fast-food restaurant reduces the calories in a children's meal by 104 calories, mainly by decreasing the portion size of French fries? Would children compensate by choosing a more calorie dense entrée or beverage? Researchers at Cornell University, Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Andrew Hanks, analyzed transaction data from 30 representative McDonald's restaurants to answer that question.

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Prior to 2012, the Happy Meal® was served with one of three entrée options (chicken nuggets, cheeseburger, hamburger), a side item (apples or small size French fry), and a beverage (fountain beverage, white milk, chocolate milk, apple juice). By April 2012, all restaurants in this chain served a smaller size "kid fry" and a packet of apples with each CMB. Wansink and Hanks found that this change in default side offerings resulted 98 of the 104-calorie decrease in the CMB.

With such a large decrease in calories, would children compensate by choosing a more calorie dense entrée or beverage? Wansink and Hanks found that 99% of children ordered the same entrée, and orders of chicken nuggets (the lowest calorie entrée) remained flat at nearly 62% of all orders. Yet, nearly 11% fewer children took caloric soda as a beverage and 22% more chose white or chocolate milk -- a more satiating beverage. This increase was partially due to small changes in advertising for milk. Interestingly, the chocolate milk served in 2012 was of the fat-free variety compared to the 1% milk variety served previously. It also contained 40 fewer calories. Overall, the substitutions in beverage purchases resulted in 6 fewer calories served with the average CMB.

Small changes in the automatic -- or default -- foods offered or promoted in children's meals can reduce calorie intake and improve the overall nutrition from selected foods as long as there is still an indulgence. Importantly, balancing a meal with smaller portions of favored foods might avoid reactance and overeating. Just as managers have done this in restaurants, parents can do this at home.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell Food & Brand Lab. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Wansink, B., & Hanks, A. Calorie reductions and within-meal calorie compensation in children's meal combos. Obesity, December 2013

Cite This Page:

Cornell Food & Brand Lab. "Healthier happy meals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131219131049.htm>.
Cornell Food & Brand Lab. (2013, December 19). Healthier happy meals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131219131049.htm
Cornell Food & Brand Lab. "Healthier happy meals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131219131049.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

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