It’s been almost three years since Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Super Size Me” attempted to indict not only McDonald’s, but food manufacturers and school lunch menus for the rise of obesity in America. In case you missed it, Spurlock ate a diet of nothing but McDonald’s for thirty days. While he conducted his experiment, he interviewed everyone from food industry leaders to school lunch ladies to students whose only lunch was a Big Grab bag of chips and a coke. Not surprisingly, Spurlock gained a significant amount of weight, but his health also deteriorated at a shocking rate. The documentary caused a lot of discussion when it was released, but did that buzz translate into changed behavior? After three years, are things in the fast food industry and school cafeterias any different?
A quick look at the menu board at McDonald’s shows a number of changes. The “Super sized” menu items are gone. There are three new “premium” grilled chicken sandwiches, a grilled chicken wrap and several salads. On the surface, they look like healthier options, but the Premium Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich checks in at 570 calories and 21 grams of fat. By comparison, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese has 510 calories and 26 grams of fat. The premium line of salads fare better. Originally offered with fat laden dressing, McDonald’s now offers reduced fat options. The Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken and Newman’s Own ® Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing has a healthy 390 calories and 12.5 grams of fat.
McDonald’s was also heavily criticized for their attempts to lure children into their restaurant, getting them hooked on high fat and sodium at an early age. The flagship Happy Meal has since been revamped to offer a choice of french fries or apple slices and low-fat milk, apple juice or a soft drink. A Happy Meal with a cheeseburger, small fries and a Sprite weighs in with 650 calories and 25 grams of fat. Substitute Apple Dippers with Low Fat Caramel Dip and a 1% Low Fat Milk Jug and the calories drop to 510 calories with 15 grams of fat. Fast food chains Burger King and Wendy’s have followed McDonald’s lead and now offer fruit and milk choices for their child’s meals. Wendy’s has even expanded the program to include adult combo meals by offering a choice of fries, chili, a baked potato or a salad.
The fast food industry has shown that they are listening to the criticisms and are making an effort to expand their menus to include healthier choices, but what about the school lunch programs? Almost three quarters of children eat at least one of their daily meals at school. A recent weekly elementary school menu featured mini corndogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken crispitos, oven fried chicken and a fried chicken sandwich. None of these are especially healthy options, but the oven fried chicken is a change from the menu two years ago. The menus also included fresh veggie strips, salad with dressing and apple sauce and fruit cups for dessert. Cakes and cookies, which were dessert choices from two years ago, are notably absent from the menu. It seems that schools, too, have gotten the message that high fat foods are harming the health of our young people.
“Supersize Me” did not start an overnight revolution, but it did put in motion a series of small changes that are beginning to add up.