McDonald's Experiments with Mini-Gyms

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In an effort to keep its young customers fit, McDonald's is experimenting with mini-gyms for children. The fast food company will introduce the gyms in several states across the country, replacing its popular playgrounds.

McDonald's Experiments with Gyms in its Restaurants


The business news starts with a way to work of calories in happy meals.

We start a food segment in New York City. The Board of Health is set to vote today on whether to ban artery-clogging trans fats in all city restaurants. Some fast food chains complain they need more time to make the switch to healthier cooking oils.

Meanwhile, the world's biggest restaurant chain is experimenting with a new way to help its younger customers stay fit. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: At Richard Ruby's McDonalds franchise in Whittier, California, children can get a Happy Meal with a side of basketball, bicycling and monkey bars. Ruby's restaurant is one of seven McDonalds around the country that has installed miniature gyms this year.

The gyms include high tech audio and video features that cheer kids on while they exercise. Ruby says the R Gym in his store - R stands for Ronald - has been a big hit.

Mr. RICHARD RUBY (McDonalds Franchisee): It's the kind of play that kids today like to do. You know, all kids at all times, always love to run around and jump, and play with basketballs, or ride a bike, or go down a slide. And it's a great, safe place for a family to come and do all of those things.

HORSLEY: Some observers are skeptical that even with the new gyms children will be able to work off all the calories in a typical fast food meal. McDonalds says the new gyms compliment some of its healthier menu choices, which include low-fat milk in lieu of soft drinks, and apple slices in place of french fries.

Restaurant consultant Dennis Lombardi, of WD Partners, adds that if the more sophisticated gyms are widely adopted they could help McDonalds hold on to older children, who may have outgrown the chain's toddler-oriented playgrounds.

Mr. RUBY: It appeals to the parents because it gives the children a place to have some activity time. I don't think it's all about burning up calories. And I think that reaching out to the family component and family segment is quite important.

HORSLEY: The new gyms include a toddler zone, an active zone, and a sports zone - with a variety of activities for children up to 12 years old. There's also a parent zone, which comes equipped with comfortable seating.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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