By Dave Carpenter
The Associated Press
CHICAGO - Coming soon to a McDonald's near you: Adult Happy Meals, featuring salad, bottled water, pedometer and a little bit of advice: Walk more.
The hamburger giant outlined plans Thursday to introduce the "Go Active!" meals for grown-ups at all 13,500 of its U.S. restaurants May 6, along with other steps designed to make its fare - and its image - more healthy.
A target of obesity lawsuits and a magnet for criticism that fast food is bad for you, McDonald's Corp. also launched a marketing blitz to address health issues head-on and tout new diet-conscious options at its outlets.
As part of the campaign, the company said that in June it will roll out healthier choices in its Happy Meals for kids nationwide, such as the option to substitute apple slices and juice for fries and soft drink.
It also will distribute brochures telling customers how to modify their McDonald's orders for lower fat, calories and carbohydrates, such as by skipping the cheese or bun.
Also new will be low-fat salad dressing and a fourth variety of salad, and providing nutrition information on Happy Meal packages starting in test markets.
The company said the latter comes in response to a call by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this year for the private sector to help fight obesity.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson lauded McDonald's for promoting balanced eating and exercise and committing to "taking a lead role by helping educate its customers on this seriously important health issue."
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, credited McDonald's with taking "some small steps in the right direction" Thursday but said they don't go nearly far enough.
"If McDonald's wanted to improve the public's health, in addition to providing the salads and bottled water it could stop using partially hydrogenated oils in its fries, which contain trans fats and are a powerful promoter of heart disease," he said.
"They also could lower the fat content of their burgers, use low-fat cheese, provide more baked food instead of fried food and lower the sodium content of their foods," he added.
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