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Fast food sheds some fat

McDonald's, which has enlisted Oprah's trainer, and other chains tout healthier products.

September 29, 2003|Delroy Alexander | Chicago Tribune

Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer Bob Greene can't remember the last time he visited a McDonald's. Nor is he a particular fan of burgers.

But he is now a key part of McDonald's huge marketing campaign to persuade customers that it is serious about offering healthier products.

Enlisting the fitness guru is McDonald's latest salvo in the ongoing battle among fast-food giants which traditionally have tried to win customers through price wars. Now they are on a new battlefield, fighting over which chain's product offerings are healthier.

Greene has signed on to help McDonald's launch its new Go Active Meal, a $4.99 item that is the adult version of the Happy Meal. It offers a salad and a bottle of water or a medium fountain drink. Customers also get a clip-on pedometer to encourage them to walk more.

No. 2 Burger King is countering with a new line of made-to-order chicken baguette sandwiches, each with less than 8 grams of fat.

And Wendy's International now has an enhanced nutrition section on its Web site.

The initiatives are a few of many the industry has pursued since the fat and calorie content of their products has come under increasing scrutiny in the last year. More than 300,000 premature deaths occur each year in the United States as a result of obesity, second only to tobacco-related deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in New York dismissed a closely watched obesity lawsuit against McDonald's Corp. that alleged the company had been hiding the health risks of eating its popular Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.

Chanting the mantra often aired by McDonald's executives, Greene said consumers had to take "personal responsibility" for the choices they make when it comes to eating.

That's why the choice to influence consumer tastes by partnering with McDonald's was too good to miss out on, Greene said. He has written an exercise booklet and plans to represent McDonald's at showcase venues, such as the American Dietetic Assn.

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