Is the McDonald’s Happy Meal book plan a bad idea?

Encouraging children to read is one thing but enticing parents to feed their children unhealthy food takes the shine off McDonald’s Happy Readers campaign

Giving away books and encouraging children to get interested in reading is an admirable aim but when the offer comes from a fast food giant alarm bells start ringing.

McDonald’s has pledged to give away 15 million £1 books by 2015 to children who eat its Happy Meal.
Each meal contains a voucher that children can exchange in store at WH Smiths to get one of publishing giant DK Books’ Amazing World series for just £1.It's not the first time McDonalds has encouraged reading by giving away free books ©Rex

On the one hand, this is a great way to get books to children who might not have experienced the joy of reading. But on the other, it might encourage parents to take their children to McDonald’s for lunch rather more than they would ordinarily.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust praised the move, referring to recent research by the group that found only 50 per cent of children said they liked reading ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’.

He said: “Our research tells us that there is a very clear link between book ownership and children’s future success in life, so it is very concerning that one in three children in the UK doesn’t own a book, and half of kids don’t really enjoy reading.

“Initiatives like McDonald’s Happy Readers campaign play an important role in getting more books into the hands of children, and inspiring families to read together as a fun and interactive pastime.”McDonalds aims to encourage falling reading numbers with its Happy Readers plan ©Rex

It’s the latest ploy by the company to encourage children into restaurants. Last year it unveiled a fizzy drink for kids, promoted as one of their five-a-day, which was slammed for containing the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar in a single cup.

A basic Happy Meal combination of a cheeseburger, small fries and a small coke, followed by a bag of fruit comes to 676 calories, which is more than a third of the RDA for a child, not to mention the amount of sugar, salt  and saturated fat found in the food.

And though it has attempted to improve the nutritional value of Happy Meals with bags of fruit and veg, mineral water and fruit drink options, it should still only be eaten as a very occasional treat.

The scheme follows a successful giveaway of books in Europe, which was condemned by some as encouraging parents and children to eat unhealthy food.

Communications Director of McDonald’s in Germany responded by telling German newspaper Spiegel Online: "We knew this would be a controversial action. But we are of the opinion that in light of the shockingly high levels of illiteracy, we need to think outside the box."

Will the Happy Readers programme encourage you to head to McDonald’s? Tell us what you think on Twitter using #YMcD.