McDonald's attempt to make Happy Meals seem healthy just massively backfired

McDonald's fitness trackerMcDonald’s CanadaMcDonald’s Step-It fitness trackers.

McDonald’s is taking fitness trackers out of its Happy Meal toys after reports of customers experiencing skin irritation.

“We have taken this swift and voluntary step after receiving limited reports of potential skin irritations that may be associated from wearing the band,” McDonald’s told Business Insider in a statement. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and we are fully investigating this issue.”

The fast-food giant swapped out the traditional Happy Meal toy for a Step-It fitness tracker for a limited time in the US and Canada, USA Today reported.

The fitness trackers were part of a larger goal at McDonald’s to project a healthier image. The chain has been making changes such as swapping margarine for butter, forgoing iceberg lettuce for more colourful vegetables, and testing menu items such a kale salad.

“A lot of people have assumptions about what McDonald’s food is,” McDonald’s corporate chef Jessica Foust told Business Insider in July. “The industry in general is challenged because there’s a stigma in general about what [quick-service restaurant] food is, and that is very very unfortunate. Personally, I don’t think that helps people eat well.”

The Happy Meal has long been a point of contention at McDonald’s. Critics of the chain have pointed to the meal, complete with a toy, as evidence of a plot by McDonald’s to make fattening meals more appealing to children in particular, playing a role in increasing childhood obesity rates.

Many parents are now wary of feeding their kids food from McDonald’s, Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a report last year, noting that Starbucks was gaining an advantage.

“Starbucks is virtually the only large incumbent that can offer millennial parents the convenience of a (fast food chain) and food they would not feel guilty/embarrassed to feed to their kids,” Goldman Sachs’ analysts wrote at the time.

In 2004, McDonald’s added apples as an option for kids’ meals. After realising in 2011 that the choice between apples and french fries was causing conflict between kids and parents, the chain adjusted the meal to include both apples and (fewer) fries.

Adding fitness trackers to Happy Meals for a limited time isn’t a long-term change, like adding apples to the menu. Still, it suggests McDonald’s believes it needs to do better when it comes to health.

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