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McDonald's Happy Meal Ads Allowed During Children’s TV, Says Watchdog

The Advertising Standards Agency, however, deems Coco Pops and KFC "junk food."
Photo by author. 

Oranges. Bran flakes. A single lettuce leaf. These are all things one would consider healthy. Delicious? Maybe not. But healthy? Yes.

Chunks of miscellaneous chicken covered in batter, and dunked in hot oil. Potatoes deep-fried and dipped in sugary ketchup. A salty burger in a white bun. Quite clearly, discerning reader, these things are not healthy. Delicious? Yes. But healthy? Nu-uh.

They are also some of the items in a McDonald’s Happy Meal, and all ingredients that the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) deems healthy enough to not breach the ban on junk food advertising during children’s television. Yup, according to the Guardian, the ASA recently dismissed a complaint regarding a Pokémon-themed Happy Meal advertisement during an episode of Peppa Pig, claiming that the meal box does not constitute as junk food.


Current UK legislation states that anything deemed “junk food” cannot be advertised during a television show aimed at children. As a result, food brands like Kellogg’s Coco Pops and KFC are prohibited from running ads during these times.

The ASA said that as the majority of Happy Meal menu items are not classed as junk food, the ad does not breach any rules. “We noted that 80 percent of mains, 100 percent of sides and 64 percent of drink options available in the Happy Meal were non-HFSS [junk food] products,” the ASA told the Guardian. “We, therefore, considered that the Happy Meal was, overall, a non-HFSS product combination.”

Currently, a Happy Meal can contain one main, one small side, and one drink. This can be a combination of healthier items—including a grilled chicken wrap, milk, and a fruit bag—or fried items, like a hamburger, fries, a crispy chicken wrap, or chicken nuggets. Although certain items are not advertised in order to abide by UK laws on advertising junk food, children can still order Coca-Cola and a milkshake with the meal.

In response to the ASA ruling, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told MUNCHIES, “The UK already restricts adverts for unhealthy products during children’s television programmes, and other media where over a quarter of the audience will be children. However, as set out in our bold new childhood obesity plan, we will be consulting on a 9 PM watershed to further protect children.”

McDonald’s recently made changes to its children’s menu after pressure from child obesity campaigners in the UK. Earlier this year, it announced plans to remove the cheeseburger from its Happy Meal menu (unless, er, you specifically request it), and has pledged to ensure that 50 percent of its children’s meals come to under 600 calories.

A gold star, for sure, for the biggest fast food chain in the world.