McDonald's USA President Jan Fields announced the company's "Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices." The comprehensive plan aims to help customers -- especially families and children -- make nutrition-minded choices whether visiting McDonald's or eating elsewhere.

Menu changes underway include the addition of more nutritionally-balanced choices that meet McDonald's reputation for great taste and affordability, along with an increased focus on providing nutrition information that enable customers and employees to make simple, informed menu decisions.

"McDonald's will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities," said Jan Fields, president, McDonald's USA. "The commitments we're announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing."

McDonald's Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices include:

1. Championing children's well-being: McDonald's will automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal® and promote options that meet the rigorous Council of Better Business Bureaus Food Pledge nutrition standards by Q1 2012. The impact will be an estimated 20 percent reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals, also reducing fat in the meal. In 2012, McDonald's will also raise nutrition awareness among children and parents through national marketing initiatives. The company will promote nutrition messages in 100 percent of its national kids' communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging. McDonald's will also provide funding for grass roots community nutrition awareness programs.

2. Expanding and improving nutritionally-balanced menu choices: By 2020, McDonald's will reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations. Starting with the already completed 10 percent reduction in the majority of our chicken items, McDonald’s will reduce sodium an average of 15 percent across its national menu of food choices by 2015. 

3. Increasing customers' and employees' access to nutrition information: McDonald's will expand new in-restaurant, website and mobile communications, and marketing vehicles, making access to this information even easier. To begin, McDonald's is now making available its first mobile app so customers can access nutrition information on-the-go.

During the past two years, the McDonald's system has significantly invested in nutritional menu innovations and communications. Examples include investing in scientific and customer research, expanded agricultural supply chain contracts, an expanded team of nutrition experts, and updating nutrition information on McDonald's website.

"As a member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, I applaud the commitments made by McDonald's today," said Roger Clemens, University of Southern California, Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences. "They have captured the intent of the Guidelines and have taken a reasoned, evidence-based approach that should have a positive impact on the millions of children and adults McDonald's serves every day."

“I welcome and support today’s announcement by McDonald’s. These types of incremental improvements in popular meals can have a broad impact on public health,” said Adam Drewnowski, PhD, Director, University of Washington Center for Obesity Research. “Better to improve the diets of many than to seek perfection for the few.”

Actions in support of the nutrition commitments are already underway at restaurants. 

Sodium Reduction: McDonald's has already reduced sodium by 10 percent in the majority of its national chicken menu offerings – most recently Chicken McNuggets®, a Happy Meal favorite. Sodium reductions will continue across the menu in accordance with the Company's 2015 commitments. 

New Happy Meal: McDonald's will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September 2011, with the goal of having them available in all 14,000 restaurants during Q1 2012.  The new Happy Meal will automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of a Hamburger, Cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk. For those customers who prefer a side choice of apples only, two bags of apple slices will be available, upon request.

By adding fruit in every Happy Meal, McDonald's hopes to address a challenge children face in meeting the recommended daily consumption of produce. McDonald's has offered apples as a requested choice in Happy Meals since 2004. And, while recent research found that on average, 88 percent of McDonald's customers are aware of the option, apples are chosen in only 11 percent of Happy Meal purchases.

"Recent research has shown that younger children are consuming more fruits and vegetables, but we still have a long way to go to increase consumption to meet daily recommendations for these important food groups," said to Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation. "McDonald's announcement to include apples in every Happy Meal and being the first quick service restaurant to do so -- further strengthens their seven years of support in our campaign to educate children and their parents on the benefits of fruits and vegetables."

For many months and in some cases, years, McDonald's has been engaging suppliers, government and non-government organizations to determine ways it could play a role in helping society address today's obesity concerns. McDonald's will develop additional fruit and vegetable choices and expects them to roll out over the next few years. The company will continue to evaluate new scientific research, public health statistics and customer insights and behavior to determine further nutrition adaptations to Happy Meals.

"McDonald's agrees with leading food and nutrition experts that making incremental lifestyle modifications with food consumption may lead to improvements in an individual's well-being," said Cindy Goody, PhD, MBA, RD, McDonald's senior director of nutrition. "We support parents in their effort to encourage their children to enjoy the foods that are good for them along with the foods they love." 

Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative: Since 2006, McDonald's has supported the Council of Better Business Bureaus Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative involving a voluntary Food Pledge to only nationally advertise products to kids that represent healthier dietary choices. McDonald's was actively engaged in the process to help develop CBBB's recently announced more rigorous pledge standards, which include stricter sodium and sugar criteria, zero grams artificial trans fat per labeled serving, and requirements for nutrient components to encourage.

Listening Tour: To ensure that the company's ongoing commitments are supporting parents and communities, Fields and McDonald's U.S. executive leadership team will embark on a national listening tour in August. They will hear directly from parents and nutrition experts about how McDonald's can play a role in this important topic. McDonald's will launch a new online parents' community that provides a forum for McDonald's and parents to more frequently engage in dialog around these important topics.

Accountability and Measurement: To evaluate McDonald's progress and the impacts of its nutrition commitments, McDonald's will rely on independent third-party partners with expertise in children's well-being. The company is establishing a Kids' Food and Nutrition Advisory Board comprised of parents and experts in children's nutrition, education and behavior to help develop effective nutrition and active lifestyle marketing messages and programming for kids. McDonald's will also enter into an agreement with a third-party organization to collaborate on a comprehensive measurement process that sets benchmarks and annual progress against commitment goals, which will be reported publicly.

Source: McDonald’s Corp.