As McDonald’s cuts salt in its burgers by 10 percent, it will have to adapt thousands of trigger-activated salt shakers, each used hundreds of times a day by burger flippers at the 34,000-restaurant chain .
But it’s exactly that kind of mind-boggling volume – 69 million customers a day worldwide – that attracted the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center into a partnership with the golden arches.
“I take the world as it is, not necessarily as I wish it were,” said the CU center’s James Hill, standing in an Aurora McDonald’s with the chain’s national director of nutrition. CU is working with McDonald’s, as it has with Disney, “because that’s where kids are coming.”
Hill and McDonald’s senior nutrition director Cindy Goody were in Aurora to promote “5th Gear Kids,” a partnership launched in the fall between CU, Children’s Hospital Colorado and food purveyors including King Soopers, Arby’s, Subway and others.
Students in Aurora and Cherry Creek schools can earn points when they buy more healthful menu items and meet fitness challenges. Rewards include sports gear and other prizes.
Physicians and nutrition advisers say their health admonitions often are overwhelmed by billions of dollars a year in mass advertising for soda, french fries, candy and salty, fatty foods. Hill and other researchers argue, though, that food sellers can put similar high-visibility efforts into healthful menu items and messages of moderation.
“There’s no way we can do this without the collaboration of industry,” said Pam Coxson, a University of California, San Francisco co-author of a new report analyzing the health benefits of sodium reduction.
The UCSF-led team used computer modeling to show that reducing sodium intake to even the upper level of federal nutrition guidelines would save 500,000 to 850,000 lives in 10 years through fewer strokes and heart attacks.
Childhood obesity, meanwhile, has been on the rise, with Colorado the second-fastest pound-gaining state. More than one-quarter of Colorado children are overweight or obese.
McDonald’s has reduced sodium in Chicken Nuggets by 20 percent and plans a 10 percent drop in hamburger salt, Goody said. An egg-white breakfast sandwich is on the way.
Menu switches won’t work unless balanced with fitness, Hill said. They teach schoolchildren that a small fries equals 2,000 steps of activity.
“If kids aren’t active,” Hill said, “nothing they eat will keep them healthy.”