Would you like a relay baton with that Happy Meal? McDonald's goes for Olympic gold

Obesity campaigners criticise sponsor for linking Games with unhealthy fast food
  • @charliecooper8

In the week that the British medical profession united behind a campaign to fight obesity, McDonald's, a sponsor of the Olympics, has come up with its own recipe to improve children's health: nine million free toys, two one-eyed mascots and a mysterious force called "Rainbow Power".

In the wake of criticism from nutritionists over the global fast food brand's involvement with the Olympics, McDonald's is giving away free exercise toys with Happy Meals as part of a national campaign to make children more active ahead of the Games.

The restaurant hopes children will use the toys – two stepometers, a bat and ball, a shuttle run counter and a relay baton – to keep track of how much exercise they are doing and then log their "activity points" online.

Some of the nine million toys will be given out free during the tour of 68 UK locations and they will also be available to buy individually from restaurants and online. But most will come with the hamburger and fries that make up an ordinary Happy Meal – although healthier options are available. The giveaway will be accompanied by a 14-week tour of the UK by the one-eyed Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville, who are fuelled by "Rainbow Power" generated by children taking part in exercise.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) this week launched a campaign to combat obesity, describing it as "the single greatest public-health threat in the UK". Among five areas recommended for review was the effect of environment, including advertising and sponsorship, on dietary behaviour.

Professor Terence Stephenson, vice-chair of the AoMRC and president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the toys are a good thing because they encourage children to be active. "But having them once you've bought a fairly unhealthy meal just doesn't stack up."

Tourism chief: 2012 visitor boom unlikely

Any increase in the number of tourists visiting the UK during this Olympic year would be "against all the odds", the chairman of VisitBritain has warned.

Speaking on the fringes of the World Travel & Tourism Council conference in Tokyo, Christopher Rodrigues warned that any country that holds a major global event sees a decline in visitors and tourism spending that same year. Mr Rodrigues's words carry weight, as his agency is the public body tasked with marketing the UK across the globe.

"A flat year of year-on-year growth would be a good outcome," he said. "A flat year would mean that we've done well against all the odds, all the history."

Mr Rodrigues said that he believes there will be spare hotel rooms in the capital during the Games, despite the thousands of people who will descend on London to watch the two-week sporting jamboree. That increase will be offset by a decline in business travel, as major corporations will choose to hold their meetings and conferences in other parts of the world.

Mark Leftly