End Happy Meal to start Happy Health

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Branding and marketing , have  entered a renewed phase with international brands. The strategy is simple, understand the mind of the consumer, and address his subliminal needs. Whether it is advertising, or marketing of products, these brands are always competing with each other, to sit favourably and if possible reside in the minds of their end consumers. Not to be outdone, international restaurant chains have  successfully promoted this brand of marketing to draw in crowds. They appeal to the youngest member of the family ( the one  that no one can say no to ,a.k.a  The toddler/child) in the hope that his parents will relent and  walk in with the rest of the family, with the  little one who’s throwing  tantrums, leading the way.

Strategy: Advertise free toys that are a   marketing tie in to a popular film or toy-line, of that particular period,with Kids Meals. Lure the  consumer and his family.Voila! Product sold.

Now try asking the kid why he really wants to  eat a ‘Happy Meal’ at a fast food restaurant? Not really rocket science.It’s  the toys silly , he would tell you with that naughty glint in his eyes. And as  the clueless  family gorges down mega  calories, our platinum  consumer is now a Happy kid playing with his new found toy,adding to an already existing mega collection.


A typical range of toys offered by fast food companies to lure kids
A typical range of toys offered by fast food companies to lure kids

It’s a fact that the  heavy marketing that  fast food companies do to lure adults with their high-calorie greasy food works, but what is compelling for kids are the cheap toys that are supposedly offered as a ‘free’ give-away with the junk food.Everything was fine, until obesity and lifestyle diseases hit new records in the past decade. Experts are now questioning the ethics of such marketing strategies,  especially when the food sold  has such adverse health consequences.

California’s Santa Clara county was the first to ban toys from fast food meals for children. Now Chile is also following the suit thanks to Sen. Guido Gerardi who filed a complaint with the health authority accusing the fast food companies of knowingly endangering the health of children by marketing kids’ meals with toys. The Latin American country imposed the law a month ago. However, Sen. Guido Gerardi points out that fast food companies are still not abiding by the law. Nearly a quarter of Chile’s 6-year-olds suffer from childhood obesity.

A typical Fast Food consumer
A typical fast food consumer. Agree ?

Middle East Scenario

If childhood obesity prevalence in the Middle East in the 1970s was between 4-5%, by 2006 it had steeply increased to 17.6%, with more than one third of all adolescents and children being obese in 2008. Childhood obesity is widespread in the Middle East, with girls being the most affected.

Despite releasing stunning figures on obesity in the region based on a research by medical journals publisher BMC Public Health, none of the countries in the Arab world have taken any measures to combat marketing tactics deployed by fast food companies that target children. Qatar, which was recently dubbed as the fattest nation on earth, has half of all adults being categorised as obese and 17% of the population suffering from diabetes.

In the UAE, a whopping 35% of kids are considered obese and experts warn that the country is headed for a child obesity epidemic. When compared with their US counterparts, UAE school children are 1.8 times more obese than American children.

The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined that the health effects of childhood obesity include risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

In Qatar,  a 2006 study of children between the ages of 12 and 17 revealed that almost 29% of boys and girls were overweight, with 8% hitting the obesity mark. The figures have crossed alarming levels as is evident from the recent research reports. Obesity among adults in Qatar is no different either, with World Health Organization’s latest statistics showing that some 73% of Qatari men and 70% of Qatari woman are overweight.

One can only hope that someone will take an initiative before it is too late.

Here is a visual representation of french fries that children are lured and addicted to ,courtesy the  fast food companies:

French Fries Calories
A typical comparison of calories in regular french fries. Photo – pekpongpet.com

There’s still hope.What YOU can do now:

1. First, accept the fact that you cannot win against the heavy and fancy marketing employed by the fast food companies. So take measures to minimise the craving, for example, by having a good meal before you are heading out.

2. Avoid going out at night. Reason? Here’s why: people at Massive Health have a very interesting infographic that shows 24 hours of eating habits around the world. According to their research, our eating habits deteriorate as the day goes on. The study is based on the aggregation of 7.68 million self-reported food ratings over a five-month period.

3. Learn cooking. Attend some classes taking place in your city and learn how to cook different styles/flavours of cooking. Food experts insist presentation of food also helps a lot in making eating more appealing.

4. Read more on healthy food and discuss about the healthy food options with your friends and family. The more you read and learn about healthy food, the more it will become part of your diet.

5. Bring awareness in kids about the negative effects of eating unhealthy food. Involve them, for example when making a salad.

6. Pack small boxes of fruits and vegetables (example: cucumber, carrot) when you go shopping to the malls. Feed yourself and your kids when the hunger kicks in.

7. Last, but not the least… get out in the sun for at least 15-20 minutes in the evening or mornings to exercise, when the heat is bearable. Or, at least go the gym and exercise until you sweat. Sedentary lifestyle, coupled with unhealthy food habits, increase the risk of several diseases manifold.

How do you maintain a balanced diet? Do you have any secrets to share with us on how you manage your diet? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

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