• McDonald's Advertises Carbs, Fat, And Calories In New York Area Locations
  • January 22, 2004
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • McDonald's has announced that it will prominently disclose in brochures and on posters the number of carbohydrates, calories, and grams of fat in its food as part of the "Real Life Choices" advertising program launched in the New York TriState area on January 5, 2004. The "Real Life Choices" program will enable McDonald's customers to specially order meals from the standard menu. Depending on customers' interests, they will be able to order a low carbohydrate, low fat, or low calorie meal by substituting or removing offending foods from a standard platter at the same price as the original meal.

    The announcement comes a year after McDonald's was targeted in two class action lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that McDonald's deceived the public by failing to warn consumers of the detrimental health affects associated with eating "supersize" meals and failing to disclose the amount of cholesterol, fat, salt, and sugar contained in its products. Judge Robert Sweet dismissed both cases on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to show that McDonald's food was the source of the plaintiff's obesity and medical problems. The plaintiff also failed to show that the danger was not "within the common knowledge of consumers."

    The rollout of the program also follows the Food and Drug Administration's recent request for public comment on the relationship between obesity and advertising. As we reported in the December 29, 2003 issue of [email protected], the Federal Trade Commission filed comments in response to the FDA's request, recommending that the rules governing the labeling of food be modified to encourage more truthful and open disclosures of nutritional information. The FDA is expected to issue a report on its findings on February 12, 2004. When asked to comment on the McDonald's announcement, Dr. Alan Rulis, senior advisor for the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said that the FDA supports providing nutritional information to consumers, and that the program "offers consumers some choices and gives them more information to work with in making decisions about healthy food choices. We encourage that even if it is an incremental change."

    Significance: McDonald's "Real Life Choices" marketing program is a clever and proactive means of addressing the interests recently raised by the FDA and the FTC concerning public disclosure of nutritional information, as well as an effective way to help stave off frivolous litigation instituted by disgruntled consumers. By providing consumers with the nutritional information and options for reducing calories, fat, and carbohydrates, McDonald's has effectively shifted the responsibility of taking charge of one's health to the individual consumer.