Did you hear?...McDonald's is your kind of … gym?

It dropped super sizing, added salads and touts its nutritional values -- what's next for McDonald's? A gym, it seems. A hap, hap, happy gym perhaps.
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It dropped super sizing, added salads and touts its nutritional values -- what's next for McDonald's? A gym, it seems. A hap, hap, happy gym perhaps.

Yes…sort of. McDonald's says it wants to take the obesity epidemic among children seriously and has installed the first of what it calls "R Gyms," a dedicated in-restaurant play area that is more than just games. Rather, it features activity zones and equipment such as stationary bikes attached to video games and dance pads, all of which can make McDonald-munching kids ages 4 to 12 sweat off a bit of the calories and fat they just put down the hatch.

The fast-food franchiser that has served Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets to billions said in a release that R Gyms are intended to provide "a fun, easy, convenient way for children to increase their physical activity." R Gyms are equipped with stationary bikes (reportedly from Cat Eye) that have video games attached, dance pads (a picture with the press released showed one from Dance Dance Revolution), basketball hoops, monkey bars, an obstacle course and a variety of other games. We did try to pin down the corporate-speak types at McDonald's about the specific equipment and brands to help out our readers, but we didn't get very far. Here's an example of the type of PR fluff we had to endure:

SNEWS®: What are the brand names and models of the exercise equipment being used in the R Gyms? Most notably, the stationary bikes and dance pads.

McDonald's: We work with various McDonald’s Corporation approved vendors who have worked in collaboration to develop the R Gym for the exclusive use of McDonald’s restaurants.

Yup, that was it. Anyay, we do know that Cateye is involved. We also were told that a company called Playtime is in there, as is another called Kidz Space. We saw DDR in a photo.

Despite all the speaking-in-circles, the intentions seem good. Another sector, the Sports Zone, is designed for ages 9 to 12 and has a series of sport-oriented activities to promote aerobic exercise for children. The Active Zone, for 4- to 8-year-olds, promotes physical fitness "through fun play," while the Toddler Zone is "an active play environment with age-appropriate games that develop physical coordination and social skills."

So far, McDonald's installed its first R Gym in Tulsa, Okla., in March, and Whittier, Calif., in late spring. The company said it plans to add more than 20 throughout California during the next 12 to 24 months.

"California, with its large and diverse population, is an ideal location to test various concepts and gauge consumer reactions," said Jennifer Smith, director of communication and public relations for McDonald's western division, in an email response.

Smith also said that the company is in the early stages of planning, but intends to launch additional R Gyms throughout the country.

SNEWS® View: While "we're lovin'" the concept, we're not lovin' how McDonald's danced around a really basic need for a few specifics. In fact, we tried for a week to squeeze out more. It was hard enough to get a real person who could say something to us and not pass the buck. We've rarely seen a corporate spokeswomen dance so lightly around questions, giving non-answers, especially when the topic was so innocuous. You bet they wouldn't be a hap, hap, happy place if we were truly investigating something. All that aside, the concept is a good one and one that is a super savvy marketing move to put the chain, often blamed for the obesity of today's kids, in better straights with the powers-that-be. We have indeed seen kids sweating up a storm on exercise concepts, like bike with video games and DDR that are more like games. So maybe kids will start begging to go to McDonald's, but not just to wolf down artery-clogging McNuggets, but to follow them up with artery-unclogging exercise. And that is good.

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