Commonly seen by health-conscious parents as an evil fast food company peddling unhealthy meals to unsuspecting children, McDonald's is trying to change that perception. The mega-chain has introduced a new toy for its Happy Meals in the United States and Canada, and really, it's no toy at all. Mickey D's is giving out colorful fitness trackers to its pint-sized customers, reports USA Today.
The trackers, designed to be worn on a kid's wrist, reportedly come in six colors and blink in accordance with how fast or slow the user is moving. And like their parents' Fitbits, the kids' trackers count steps. Michelle Greenwald, a Columbia Business School professor, told USA Today the new promotion is meant to make parents feel better about dining at McDonald's with their young ones: "They are doing something wholesome, and it gets you to maybe rethink and take another look because it's surprising."
The chain is reviled among activist parents who point to a number of promotions, including Happy Meals and the toys that accompany them, that are meant to hook kids and create lifelong customers who crave Big Macs and fries. "McTeacher's Nights," which serve as fundraising events for educators, are also particularly loathed. Individual restaurants raise money to support local schools, which draws students and their parents to the Golden Arches. Critics say McTeacher's Nights simply force a child to sacrifice their health for their education.
Are the fitness trackers a step in the right direction? While some will praise McDonald's for offering children a Happy Meal toy that's actually an exercise incentive, not everyone is impressed. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Consumerist the fitness trackers only serve to boost the chain's image.
"McDonalds should stay in it's lane," Wootan said. "If it wants to address kids' health, it should do that in actual meals."
Even if McDonald's doesn't make healthier food for kids, the fitness trackers could have an unintended consequence that would please wary moms and dads. No matter how often adults chirp about their own Fitbits, smart watches, and the like, deep down, we all dread trying to satisfy the goals they set for us. If kids begin associating that same dread with McDonald's, perhaps they won't request Happy Meals quite so often.
Update: August 17, 7:15 p.m. And just like that, the promotion is over. The Associated Press reports McDonald's is pulling the fitness trackers due to "quality issues."
"It will no longer be offered as part of our Happy Meals," a spokesperson for McDonald's wrote in an email to Eater. "We have taken this swift and voluntary step after receiving limited reports of potential skin irritations that may be associated from wearing the band.
"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and we are fully investigating this issue. Our restaurants are now offering our youngest guests an alternative Happy Meal toy."
• McDonald's serving up fitness trackers in Happy Meals [USAT]
• Critics: Putting Fitness Trackers In McDonald's Happy Meals Doesn't Make Them Healthy Meals [Consumerist]
• McDonald's Is Catching Heat for McTeacher's Nights [E]
• All McDonald's Coverage [E]