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26/03/03 . By Neil Buckley in New York . Yahoo News . USA
McDonald's bids for healthy kids
McDonald's is attempting to seize the initiative amid concerns over rising obesity levels with plans to offer healthier products to children including fruit, vegetables and yoghurt.
The world's largest burger chain said it would also create a "McDonald's Advisory Council on Healthy Lifestyles", an independent group of nutrition experts that would guide the company on health-related activities.
The latest moves follow a series of menu changes in recent months aimed at reflecting changing consumer tastes and health concerns. McDonald's said last September it would cut the amount of saturated and trans fats in its french fries.
It also launched a range of premium salads in the US this month, along with dressings made by Newman's Own, the food company linked with the Hollywood actor Paul Newman. It is test-marketing a lower-fat version of its Chicken McNuggets.
McDonald's insisted the latest move to revamp its children's Happy Meals was not connected with a lawsuit it faces from a group of overweight teenagers claiming that its products caused their obesity. McDonald's has dismissed the case as "ludicrous".
The initial case was thrown out by a judge in January. But following guidelines laid out by the judge, the plaintiffs's lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, submitted an amended claim last month arguing that some McDonald's products were more unhealthy than consumers realised.
"This is not a response to the lawsuit. This is an issue we have been looking at for a long time," said Ken Barun, McDonald's corporate vice-president who will lead the company's healthy lifestyle activities.
The company said Jim Cantalupo, chief executive, had directed all McDonald's markets that offer children's Happy Meals to identify "additional product choices".