Bizarre claim in 1980s McDonald's ad slammed: 'Dangerous and misleading'

The nostalgic ad has come into question after resurfacing online.

A nostalgic newspaper ad promoting a meal from McDonald's has caused a stir on social media with a wild claim made by the popular fast-food giant coming under fire.

Resurfacing online this week, the full-page colour advert — believed to be from the 1980s — features a Big Mac, a strawberry milkshake and regular fries, which is being flogged as a "healthy dinner option for the whole family" — a claim health experts say is "dangerous" and "misleading" for consumers.

Alongside a picture of the Macca's meal, the headline reads: "More than 55% of your daily protein needs". The ad also claims this particular meal has "a higher level of many vitamins and minerals than the average Australian meal".

"A meal of a Big Mac, a McDonald's strawberry milkshake and a regular serving of french fries provides a substantial proportion of your daily requirements of many nutrients," the text reads on the advert, alongside a nutrition information table showing the vitamins and minerals provided by their meals, including Vitamin A, C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Iron and Calcium.

McDonald's newspaper ad from 1980s
The nostalgic McDonald's ad has resurfaced on social media recently. Source: Reddit

Major problem with McDonald's advert

There are a number of obvious problems with this type of ad, says Rebecca Golley, an accredited dietitian and professor at Flinders University — the first being that it's extremely misleading.

Seeing the ad on social media, one person commented to say "these claims aren't necessarily wrong, just not the full picture" — and Professor Golley agrees.

"Most Australians meet their protein requirements easily, even back then, and McDonald's is no superfood. So it's making a claim about an area of nutrition that we're already all doing really well at, but the danger is in the information that's concealed," she explained.

Professor Golley, Deputy Director at the Caring Futures Institute, said the ad fails to recognise information about the high amount of fat, salt, sugar and calories that are present in a McDonald's meal alongside the protein it claims to have. "So while there is protein, it is not transparent about, overall, being a nutrient-poor choice for multiple reasons," she said.

McDonald's meal
The McDonald's meal was being advertised as a "healthy" option for families, but experts disagree. Source: Getty

Controversial nutrition claim is 'dangerous' for Aussie consumers

A lot has changed since the 19080s and "this ad wouldn't meet the standards to make a nutrition claim today," Professor Golley concluded. In addition to tighter regulation, "there has also been a big shift in consumer expectations and what we will tolerate," she explained.

Now, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and Australian food law mean there are standards that need to be met to make nutrition and health claims on foods and beverages in Australia. There was also far less known about the relationship between diet and health back then and Macca's was not considered fast-food, but more like a family restaurant.

"What's really changed is how often we're consuming these types of food [now compared to then]. So it was probably not as dangerous at the time, but it's dangerous now," Professor Golley said. "But it was certainly deceptive and was trying to mislead people by making it out to be a more nutritious option than it is."

Serving sizes at McDonald's are deceptive

Taking aim at the ad on social media, many pointed out the serving size depicted could also be an issue with small fries not reflecting a typical order at Macca's. Professor Golley said how meal deals are packaged and presented continues to be a problem today, but the evolution now is McDonald's ads presenting a burger with a salad and water.

"This isn't something most people would order," Professor Golley said, saying it's a clever tactic used to help reduce the calories on their labelling.

The discussion around this advert shows how food marketing is "still a really relevant issue" Professor Golley said, calling for more government-led efforts in this space.

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