Leading article: Food for thought

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The Independent Online

What a curious position McDonald's occupies in our national consciousness. It is almost as if it is not a fast-food chain at all, but a barometer of Britain's physical, and perhaps even mental, condition. When salads and fruit began appearing at UK outposts of the Golden Arches it was heralded as a sign that we were finally falling out of love with fatty burgers, salty fries and sugary drinks. When Disney recently revealed that it was ending its long-standing Happy Meal tie-in, we hoped it meant it was now unacceptable for family entertainment companies to use fast food to target children.

But now the "Bigger Big Mac" - an especially enlarged burger that will be on sale for the duration of the World Cup - looms on the horizon and has thrust us, once more, into confusion. Some concerned MPs have begun a petition against the burger on health grounds. McDonald's claims it is merely "offering fans a little bit more of what they love during the World Cup".

So what does this mean? Are we weaning ourselves off our unhealthy diets, or are we actually getting worse? Salads or Bigger Macs? It is certainly cynical of McDonald's to attempt to cash in on an elite sporting occasion by bringing out an especially fatty burger. And it will be interesting to see how well it sells. But how much will this really tell us about our health, especially if the World Cup also has the effect, say, of inspiring more people to play football themselves?

If McDonald's is betting that our appetite for healthier lifestyles is nothing more than a fad, it may well find its profits start to look a lot leaner again in coming years.