Tech by VICE

McDonald's Offers Activity-Tracking Wearables with Their 500 Calorie Happy Meals

An 8-year-old would need to walk about five hours to burn off a Happy Meal.

by Madison Margolin
Aug 17 2016, 5:02pm

McDonald's is now asking kids to work off the iconic Happy Meals they serve.

In an effort to stay competitive with other fast food chains, and publicly establish a commitment to healthy consumers, American and Canadian McDonald's outlets are giving away activity trackers with Happy Meals, and marketing them in light of the Olympics.

"Keep up with your friends and your favorite athletes," McDonald's urges kids.

Like a Fitbit for kids, the McDonald's activity tracking wearables come in all different color wristbands and measure either speed or steps taken."Physical activity is important to everyone of all ages. We very much support children's wellbeing," Michelle McIlmoyle, McDonald's Canada senior marketing manager, said. "Whether it's our sponsorship of the minor hockey program...in local markets or within our Happy Meals, our objective is always to provide a balance."

Sure, with a 539-calorie Happy Meal for a 60-pound kid, they'll need that balance between intake and calories burn. For an 8-year-old to burn the number of calories in a Happy Meal, they would need to walk for about 300 minutes.

But are the McDonald's wearables, or any activity tracking device for that matter, accurate enough to even help with that kind of calculation? It's likely that these devices—now a $1.5 billion industry—are less precise than we'd hope. Different activity trackers result in different step counts at the end of the day, according to Scientific American, so they're not always reliable.

One study found that fitness trackers mounted onto shoes measured movement more efficiently than those at hip level. It's also dubious as to how accurately the devices measure calories burned. Another study found that activity trackers were often erroneous in this category. Researchers at Iowa State University tested eight different models, finding that error ratings ranged from 9 to 23.5 percent.

While activity trackers are less than accurate, the act of monitoring activity could be enough to inspire people to embrace and maintain healthier habits.

"Research has shown that if you want to stick to a new habit, monitoring is one of the best ways to make a change," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told Shape Magazine. One study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine, for instance, showed that people who wore pedometers were more active and lost more weight overall than those who didn't.

So with child obesity more than having doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, wearing a cheap and potentially inaccurate McDonald's wearable just may do the trick for future adults everywhere. Or it could just a healthy dose of PR for the flailing brand.

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