Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Big Macs Can Stop Obesity

One of the reasons that McDonalds has been so successful all around the world is consistency. It is a principle which was laid down by the company’s founders and has served it well ever since. No matter where you go you can expect the hamburger to look and taste the same. Part of the principle of consistency has also been the standardization of the menu, and the uniformity of the d├ęcor and furnishing of the restaurants. It also means that no matter in which part of the country you may be, a Big Mac will always cost the same. In fact, some people even use the price of a Big Mac as an international standard by which to measure an economy. But not any more.

Apparently, the fast food company has decided to charge higher prices in locations where people are less well off. It seems that the nature of fast food is such that poorer people are more likely to buy it. This might be because it is cheaper than other restaurants or cafes, or because of the convenience factor for people who are flat out working to make ends meet, or simply because poorer people also tend to be less well educated and therefore less likely to either care about or understand the health issues. Whatever the reasons, the statistical fact is that less well off families eat more junk food.

It has also been noted in the past that geographic areas of lower socio economic status also have more fast food outlets. So it appears that companies like McDonalds are already targeting the areas where their biggest customers live. And when I say “biggest”, I mean that quite literally. The people in those same areas of disadvantage are also more likely to be overweight or obese. Now, it’s more difficult to scientifically demonstrate a direct link between McDonalds and obesity, but even they know the obvious truth, otherwise why would they make such a big song and dance about their so called “healthy options” menu items.

While it makes sense for any business to have a greater presence in the areas where their best customers live, the next step of charging a premium to those same customers is more dubious. It can easily be seen as a blatant effort to exploit their most loyal customers rather than to reward them, and I really don’t know how that can be considered good P.R. I can’t imagine how it could be seen as anything other than a greedy grab for cash which may well alienate the people who constitute their core market.

But maybe, in a strange way, that’s a good thing. Maybe if McDonalds makes their merchandise more expensive in the areas of socio economic disadvantage, people will actually consume less of it. Maybe we’ve all got it all wrong, and McDonalds is actually helping to fight obesity by making Big Macs more expensive and discouraging people from eating them.

Yes, I’m sure that must be it. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

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