The upturn was a welcome development for the burger giant, which has suffered from a barrage of bad publicity including Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me, which attacked fast food companies' marketing tactics and products.
Europe, McDonald's second-biggest market after the US, had been a particularly problematic area, with health concerns hurting sales in the UK and high unemployment contributing to a downturn in demand in Germany. Sales in European stores open for more than a year rose 5.4 per cent in January compared with last year, McDonald's said.
The company, whose headquarters are in Illinois, distributed booklets with coupons and nutritional information last month to 20 million British households. In Germany, McDonald's increased advertising of 11 items including a dark-meat chicken sandwich that sell for one euro.
Jim Skinner, the chief executive, said: "While I am encouraged by January's results, we must continue to make progress to strengthen our European business. We are focused on enhancing our performance across the region through relevant menu offerings, targeted marketing and improved operations, with emphasis on service."
Overall, sales rose 5.2 per cent last month, with growth in the US rising at its smallest rate since April 2003. However, it managed to sell a larger number of its more expensive menu, which include salads. The performance in the US was also against already strong growth in its core market, where it has been recovering from a health conscious-related dip for some months.
Sales in the region encompassing Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and Africa increased 7.1 per cent after improvements in menu variety and value, McDonald's said. It was the region's biggest gain in four months.
The company has more than 31,500 restaurants in 119 countries. It said last month it expected global sales to climb 3 to 5 per cent this year.