Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy Meals do not strategy make

Last Monday I lamented the mid-August start of school in Georgia. What I really meant to say was, beware of Happy Meals.

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with standardizing, simplifying, and packaging so that it's easy to get a hold of stuff. "Happy Meals" happen when efficiencies used to deliver predictable results in a reliable fashion are applied to food. And it's certainly nice to give toys to children.

But, as I used to tell my children, the prize associated with a meal is supposed to be food. It makes the gnawing feeling in your stomach called "hunger" go away. That is your present.

As childhood obesity takes stage as a significant public health concern, Happy Meals are being called out. We're beginning to question whether reliable access to high-fat, low nutritional value food is a good thing.

People like me, who fed Happy Meals to our kids once in awhile, probably recognized that these meals weren't served from the table of bountiful harvest. But the short term benefit of a quick meal and minimal clean-up exceeded any longer-term consequences we were reasonably able to anticipate. Who among us knew that so many kids were eating so much junk so frequently? Who would have guessed that Type 2 diabetes would become a childhood illness? Who could have known that the burgeoning weight of American kids would render pediatric drug dosing reference guides, based on growth tables from a previous generation, obsolete?

This is why strategy must be separated from the processes used to make it through the day: we plan meals better when we're not hungry. Strategic planning is about coming to the table, not to eat, but to think about what should be served up and how the pantry should be stocked.

Coming next: Part 2, Happy Meals in healthcare.

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