McDonald’s Getting Fried Over Trans Fats

Discussion
Apr 13, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


A Danish research study of fast foods from around the world found that there were wide variations in the amount of trans fats in the same menu items, depending on where they were sold.


The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tested McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, KFC hot wings and fried potatoes from two other chains.


According to the research, a large combo of fries and McNuggets at a McDonald’s in New York contained 10.2 grams of trans fat. The same items in Spain, Russia and the Czech Republic had three grams of trans fat. In Denmark, the trans fat content was only 0.33 grams.


There were even variations within the same country, according to the research. In New York, for example, a large order of fries in McDonald’s contained 30 percent more trans fat than the same order placed in a restaurant in Atlanta.


One of the researchers on the project, Dr. Steen Stender, a cardiologist and former head of the Danish Nutrition Council, told The Associated Press, “I was very surprised to see a difference in trans fatty acids in these uniform products. It’s such an easy risk factor to remove.”


The consumption of trans fats has shown to reduce good cholesterol while increasing bad cholesterol. Consumption of trans fats has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks.


“Per gram, it is more harmful than any other kind of fat,” said Dr. Stender. “It’s a metabolic poison.”


McDonald’s said any variation in trans fat content is a result of restaurants tailoring product to meet the preferences of local consumers. McDonald’s said in 2002 it would seek to cut trans fat content in its fries and other products in half. No timetable for achieving that goal was set.


Critics say high trans fat content is more about restaurants looking to save money than it is about meeting local taste preferences. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can be reused and have a longer shelf life than other healthier oils used to fry foods. 


Moderator’s Comment: Does McDonald’s apparent lack of progress in reducing trans fats have the potential to negatively
affect its sales in the U.S.? Do you see the issue of trans fats coming back to bite restaurants and food manufacturers that use partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in their
products?
– George Anderson – Moderator

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17 Comments on "McDonald’s Getting Fried Over Trans Fats"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

I’ve never seen any data that suggests improving the “healthiness” of fast foods leads to increased consumption (or the obverse – that having less healthy food reduces fast food sales). If anyone has such data, please share it with the discussion group.

That said, there will always be a small group of consumers who are up-in-arms about something and they may be affected by McDonald’s lack of progress. But that seems to me to be unlikely to even show up as a blip in the sales data.

We [Americans] know what fast food is and we don’t expect it to be healthy – we expect it to be good, cheap, and fast.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 10 months ago

And there it is, right there in the report. Independent franchisees reserve the right to buy cooking oil where they want and to use it as long as they want. Less expensive cooking oil and oil used too long both have excess trans fats. As long as customers continue to visit, buy, and consume, these practices will not change. From purchase, to “extended” use, and right up until environmentalist Darryl Hannah backs her cooking-oil-burning car up to the vat for a top-off, fast feeders will continue to cut corners where they can.

Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

McDonald’s customers are not concerned with trans fats. They want taste, value and fries with their soda. McDonald’s is not a health driven food alternative, and any pretense to be such is just part of their PR campaign to ameliorate those who claim they need to be. At the end of the day, McDonald’s customers care more about a clean bathroom than a healthy body. McDonald’s food has always been about a great burger, fries and a soda. Their consistency and reliability on delivering these as a value-added meal is their goal, and this keeps their customers and shareholders happy.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Mark, let my qualify my observation. Sure, salads are a big seller, but what’s their net nutritional value when you dump the dressing on them?

Martin Lynch
Guest
Martin Lynch
14 years 10 months ago

The discussions concerning the ROI of being a responsible national corporation are a bit disconcerting to me.
Does McDonald’s really need to prove that eliminating “the metabolic poison,” as Dr. Stender states, will directly increase sales?

It’s obvious that U.S. obesity is a chronic and critical issue. McDonald’s can and should have a much better answer.
Who really thinks that 8-to-18 year olds (and many parents) have the time, resources or reasonable alternatives to make a better choice… as they’re hurrying to the next soccer game?

Bob Bridwell
Guest
Bob Bridwell
14 years 10 months ago

I think you are missing the point. The fact is, fried foods can be practically trans fatty acid free depending on the shortening/oils used. It’s simply whether or not it is hydrogenated. Hydrogenation does a lot, from raising the smoke point to making the shortening more stable. Then you have to consider the flue loss.

McD’s seems unwilling to change its formulation for their fries, believing that they are such a signature item, that they can’t be changed.

Food edible and non-edible CPG companies are racing to remove trans fatty acids because they know that consumers don’t want them. McD’s was much like Wal-Mart is now; their stock and performance was ho-hum and they started getting back to their roots of fast and friendly.

It seems they have one last sacred cow to slaughter. Fast food doesn’t have to be totally unhealthy.

Matt Roher
Guest
Matt Roher
14 years 10 months ago

Three cheers to my respected fellow commentators Misters Needel and Mathews. It’s so obvious and simple; I’m glad they agree. If you want to eat fast food and are grabbing a double Big Mac with Large Fries and a Diet Coke, chances are you’re not seriously concerned with healthy eating. It’s cheap, easy, and quick, and sometimes even tasty.

As for McD’s salads, the salt/sodium content in the salad dressings is enough to make make the Dead Sea pale by comparison, so let’s forgo any immediate claims to healthy eating and accept it as a cash grab aimed at increasing market share and stockholder value.

Brian Numainville
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Why does fast food have to be unhealthy? With the obesity problem we have today, it just doesn’t seem right for McDonald’s to “look the other way” when they apparently can adjust the amount of trans fats in their products. And to the point that people who eat at McDonald’s don’t care about trans fats — maybe so — but as a society with skyrocketing health care costs, perhaps removing what has been characterized as “poison” might not be such a bad idea!

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

The article isn’t about whether or not Mcdonald’s (or KFC or anyone else for that matter) uses trans fats, it’s about the fact that the same food items (and I use the term advisedly) can contain widely varying amounts depending on the marketplace. Buyer beware doesn’t really apply here either. There is no way of knowing whether you are in a high or low trans fat area – and apparently these vary from state to state, not just country to country. Although the majority of people eating fast food, by definition, probably don’t care what’s in their food there is still something questionable about varying the recipe according to the audience. In other words, trying to get away with whatever you can wherever you can. Ethics anyone?

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Ryan, I agree that the salad dressings aren’t “healthy” but isn’t a key goal comp sales increases? And when 2 percentage points means so much, isn’t it worth exploring some menu tweaks? Salads didn’t push the main draws (burgers, fries, shakes) off the menu, but they provided some nice comps. And the amount of dressing is up to the customer.

Chuck Hartwig
Guest
Chuck Hartwig
14 years 10 months ago

McDonald’s has a responsibility to serve a good, safe and healthy product, and they will do this. I am really tired of all the “groups” making manufacturers of any consumer goods responsible for their lack of good judgement and common sense. Cars, gardening equipment, food, beer and alcohol have all come under critique for not being “safe”. We need to take the responsibility on using any product; stop blaming the manufacturer. If you do not like the fats, eat them less; have a salad and sandwich instead of the fries. No one has ever put a gun to my head and said, “You must have the large fries.” All or most of the consumer products are safe USED CORRECTLY; it is the consumer’s responsibility. We can education them—if they will listen.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Even if all current McDonald’s customers didn’t care about healthy eating (and the salad sales prove this is false), McDonald’s wants comp sales increases. The stock price would richly reward an additional comp sales increase of only 2%. To get the comp sales increases shareholders want, adding a healthy component to the menu could do the trick.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
14 years 10 months ago

In addition to the obvious health issue – and McDonald’s primary customers are in need of all the health improvements they can get – this is a P.R. problem. Just like Wal-Mart and Exxon, McDonald’s has a huge target on their back because they are number one. The pressure for them to get rid of trans fats is not going to go away.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

How many health food fanatics eat at McDonald’s now? How many people that eat at McDonald’s don’t realize there are probably better places to eat? What will change? Nothing.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Though it wasn’t mentioned in this article, Denmark’s svelte fries – and the impetus for the study – are (at least partly) the result of a Danish law restricting trans-fat levels; and I think that is the real issue here. Do Mickey D, et al. make an effort – even if it’s basically a PR oriented one – to sell healthier food, or do they wait until the government forces it upon them?

The list of items once subjected to excise taxes – or even outright ban – for possessing (allegedly) negative externalities is long…. it’s not impossible to imagine trans-fat/sodium/etc. added to that list.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 10 months ago

Is this new news, or just assumed, but never published?

What would one think about all the fried chicken made in supermarkets?

McDonald’s and others know what they must do! Another Paul Newman products approach?

Hmmmmmmmmmm

Kelly Ruschman
Guest
Kelly Ruschman
14 years 10 months ago

I think it is only a matter of time before McDonald’s switches to zero trans fat oil because public pressure will simply be too great and they will realize that strategically it is the right move. We are already seeing many regional chains switch with good response from their customers and you can bet that McDonald’s is watching them closely. None of the big boys want to make this move because it will raise their oil costs by millions, and in McDonald’s case, maybe a $100 million. It would only make sense for McDonald’s to make the move first because the positive PR value would be significant and ensure that they would get the lions share of any incremental sales that are out there.

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