McDonald's loss is the healthy consumer's gain

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Such is the iconic status of McDonald's that the company's fortunes have always been closely followed. The fast food chain's extra-ordinary global rise since it was founded half a century ago, and its close association with America's post-war economic supremacy, mean that when McDonald's runs into trouble there are usually critics on hand to proclaim the end of an era. Yesterday's revelations that the pre-tax profits of McDonald's UK operation have fallen dramatically in the last year provide another chance for the doomsayers to try to pull down the celebrated golden arches.

Such is the iconic status of McDonald's that the company's fortunes have always been closely followed. The fast food chain's extra-ordinary global rise since it was founded half a century ago, and its close association with America's post-war economic supremacy, mean that when McDonald's runs into trouble there are usually critics on hand to proclaim the end of an era. Yesterday's revelations that the pre-tax profits of McDonald's UK operation have fallen dramatically in the last year provide another chance for the doomsayers to try to pull down the celebrated golden arches.

The McDonald's brand has certainly been going though a torrid time. The company has been criticised by health professionals for contributing to Britain's obesity epidemic with its burgers and fries. The Super Size Me phenomenon has compounded these fears. The US cinema documentary, which shows a man existing on a diet of McDonald's food for a month, demonstrates the dangerous health effects of a fast-food diet, and exposes the way in which McDonald's staff are trained to push "super-size: meals. It has made quite an impact on both sides of the Atlantic.

Many people appear to be rejecting McDonald's on health grounds. It is certainly possible to welcome this development, since it shows the public is beginning to accept the need to eat more healthily. But perhaps more encouraging is the fact that the market is sending a clear signal to McDonald's. The company has scrapped its "super-size" range in the US, and is phasing it out in Britain. It has also devised a range of salads and juices to counter accusations that all its products are unhealthy.

Health concerns, of course, are not the only factor behind McDonald's decline. Greater competition has also had an effect, meaning that people are not always opting for healthier alternatives. But this trend does offer some hope to those who believe that allowing the market to respond to enlightened consumers, rather than enforcing regulations, will ultimately prove better for the nation's health.

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