McDonald’s ditches the happy in Happy Meals in an attempt to raise awareness for mental health

By Abby Amoakuh

Published May 16, 2024 at 12:36 PM

Reading time: 1 minute

Fast food chain and purveyor of Big Macs McDonald’s has chosen to remove the smile from its Happy Meal packaging instead opting to sell simple red boxes called ‘The Meal’ to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week.

The redesign is supposed to counter toxic positivity, described as the pressure only to display positive emotions and suppress any negative ones, amid new studies which reveal that loneliness and depression affect children as much as it does adults.

In the UK, roughly 48 per cent of children reportedly feel pressured to be happy all the time. “It’s ok not to be happy all the time,” is thus the statement ‘The Meal’ will be adorned with instead of the classic yellow smile.

A new nationally representative survey of 1,000 girls commissioned by the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) revealed that nearly two-thirds of young girls aged between 5 and 7 reported feelings of loneliness. The percentage ticked up with age, showing that nearly three-quarters of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 felt the same way.

This is of course contrary to the popular belief that children are always happy, energetic and enthusiastic.

To respect and validate these feelings of suppressed sadness, McDonald’s took it upon themselves to distribute 2.5 million ‘Unhappy Meals’ to more than a thousand locations across the UK. The boxes will be accompanied by stickers that represent different emotions so kids can give ‘The Meal’ whatever mood they’d like, for instance, sadness.

I’m not sure about you but I think that whoever is in the McDonald’s marketing department must have been seriously starved for ideas if the best thing they could come up with is ‘The Meal’. Besides removing the selling point from its most popular product, wouldn’t wiping that smile off a child’s box filled with a toy and nuggets also wipe the smile off their face?

I am instantly hit by vivid memories of me as a child where the mention of a Happy Meal was able to completely turn my day around. Children might be depressed, but if you ask me they are also quite easy to cheer up.

But perhaps this doesn’t address the sadness of children, who feel forced to put on a smile when they parents hand them a Happy Meal, although just aren’t feeling like chips today. Maybe I am too cynical?

“We know how important it is to help stimulate open conversations about mental health in families,” said Louise Page, McDonald’s Head of Consumer Communications & Partnerships.

“Through this change to our Happy Meal box, we hope many more families are encouraged to kickstart positive conversations around children’s emotions and wellbeing.”

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