The piece of wearable technology is designed to encourage those eating McDonald’s Happy Meals to be more active
McDonald’s locations in North America have begun serving an unexpected addition to its classic children’s Happy Meal: a bright, colorful, fitness tracker. For a limited time, the fast-food giant is replacing its traditional Happy Meal toy treat for a “Step-It” activity tracker throughout the U.S. and Canada. McDonald’s said the toy will be available for four weeks, during which it will advertise the tracker on TV and YouTube.
In an effort to push back against critics who claim McDonald’s encourages unhealthy eating habits among children, the new Step-it wristbands are part of a widespread promotional campaign aimed at getting kids active and moving again.
“Physical activity is important to everyone of all ages. We very much support children’s well-being,” said Michelle McIlmoyle, McDonald’s Canada senior marketing manager. “Step-it is in line with McDonald’s general philosophy for Happy Meal toys, which is to make toys that encourage either physical or imagination-based play.”
The wristband — which come in six colors — features a relatively simple design. Step-it is made of transparent plastic, sports an adjustable wristband, and features a single button on the front that performs the dual functions of toggling the tracker’s power and resetting the step count. Step-it also has LEDs that blink according to how quickly or slowly the person wearing the device is moving – a slow walk triggers the occasional blink, while a jog or sprint makes the lights blink in a flashing frenzy.
For more than three decades, the Happy Meal has long been a point of contention for McDonald’s critics, who argue that the meal —complete with a toy— is evidence that the chain is strategically trying to make fattening meals more appealing to children, which has lead to an increase in childhood obesity rates.
In response to its critics, McDonald’s has made several changes in recent years to help project a healthier image. In 2004, McDonald’s introduced apples as an option for their kid’s meals after years of pressure from consumer groups and food activists to increase the availability of fruits and vegetable options on their menu. In 2005, it launched a series of national TV spots that promoted exercise as part of a balanced life, and in 2012 kicked off a national public school tour focused on “[teaching] kids about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.” The chain has also made changes to other parts of their regular menu, such as swapping margarine for butter, forgoing iceberg lettuce for more colorful vegetables, and testing menu items such a kale salad. And this year, McDonald’s is an official sponsor (and the official restaurant) of the 2016 Summer Olympics Games.
Although the limited edition fitness tracker is not a long-term change, it is further evidence of McDonald’s continuing efforts to project a healthier image and offer more nutritious menu options.