We were feeling pretty happy recently so it seemed time to wander into Mickie D's and check out the new "Go Active" Happy Meal for adults â€“ the one with the salad and so-called "stepometer."
"Can I help you," the barely 20-something clerk asked us. We felt a little dazed since McDonald's isn't someplace we normally frequent. Shoot, it was so bright, there were so many colors and smellsâ€¦. Man, we felt oldâ€¦ But on our way in we'd seen the life-sized poster promoting the Go Active Happy Meal with an overly smiley and quite thin young female model wearing her stepometer and asking â€“ seriously, mind you -- "How many steps to the counter?"
"Do you still have those Active meals," we asked.
"Yes," he said and looked at us sort of impatiently like we really were geeky for not knowing the routine.
The meals are basically one of the regular menu salads with a bottle of water for $5.99. Instead of a toy, as in the kid's Happy Meals, adults get this stepometer thing.
"We'll take one."
"Which salad do you want?" he asked, shifting his weight onto the other heel nearly rolling his eyes.
"Uh, the Caesar."
"Chicken, fried or not?"
"Uh, just plain."
"What do you want to drink?" he asked, trying to hurry this along.
"Oh. What are the choices?"
"Any of the drinks." Now he was getting curt.
We found out later that there was an up-charge for ordering something other than water, but he hadn't told us that. Heck, woulda rather had water.
Our adult's Happy Meal bagged and in hand, we wander out, past that sorta scary life-sized promo. There's a little head-shot of "Oprah's trainer," Bob Greene saying, "The point is, to get walking."
OK, so that was right on. But we were still mulling over the steps to the counter.
One thing we DID learn from the young clerk was that these Go Active meals have been pretty actively selling: "We actually ran out of the step things yesterday," he said.
"What do you think of them," we asked him.
"I dunno. I wouldn't use it."
Lori Miller, head of U.S. Communication for McDonald's, backs up booming sales with stats. Seems there will be close to 15 MILLION stepometers handed out during the promotion, we were told. When rolled out in mid-May, the meals were supposed to be around for about a month, but Miller says that was extended through July 4 or "while supplies last." Whether it continues after that is still to be determined, she said.
Most of the buyers are, according to the corporate office, women, age 18 to 49. The young clerk had a different take: "Middle-aged moms," he said.
Once home, we tried out the stepometer, which is basically a really, really cheap pedometer with the only adjustment being a reset button to zero out the counter. With a relatively inexpensive mechanism, the pedometer showed I'd taken about 10 steps just pulling on a t-shirt. Wow, this exercise stuff is easy!
The problem with these cheap stepometers, said Ron Sutton, president of Accusplit, which is known for stopwatches and pedometers, is that they are overly sensitive because the mechanism doesn't have limiters or other safety measures to keep it from counting as steps other things like standing up from a chair, reaching for a fork, or turning around suddenly.Â We can vouch for that. After wearing the stepometer and another higher-end pedometer for an entire day at the same time, the stepometer had counted at least 10 percent more steps. If a user is gunning for the 10,000-step program (that's equal to about 5 miles, by the way), using the cheap one won't be so accurate.
But that's even OK with Sutton, who of course makes part of his living selling pedometers.
"The motive is still good â€“ to get beginners to get active," Sutton told SNEWSÂ®. We'd put in about 20 steps just sitting and talking to him on the phone based on the stepometer -- we can feel the fat just melting away.
"I hope it inspires more people to eat-right-move-more," he added. "We think it has a role to do that. It's better than doing nothing, and for that we give McDonald's credit."
Now, about those steps to the counterâ€¦.
SNEWSÂ® View: OK, these stepometers were cheap-o. The insides rattled about, and we could tell when it counted steps by listening to it. Brush against it, and as far as it knew, you'd walked five steps. Nevertheless, never having worn a pedometer for any length of time, it was rather addictive to see the number going up. We can see how this would be a carrot to beginners and inactive people. And these cheap ones don't cost much in bulk â€“ perhaps a buck. A lot less when you're McDonald's and you're acquiring millions.
So that leads us to a thought for fitness equipment manufacturers: Why hasn't someone come up with giving a pedometer with a purchase of a piece of equipment? Then the manufacturer AND retailer could be working together to help the buyer not only put in their 20, 30 or 45 minutes on the equipment, but also to help the consumer perhaps be encouraged to make the rest of their lives more active too, which is where additional fitness and health rewards can accrue. And the pedometer gift could be branded with the manufacturer's name. May as well not let the consumer forget who gave it to them. McDonald's gave an itty-bitty brochure called "Step with it!" with the Go Active Happy Meal. It's nothing more than a promotional intro really. Again, like the Mickie D stepometers, that's not a bad thing. But now somebody needs to also "step with it" to help the consumer who's nibbled at the bait to move along to the next level. Wouldn't be so hard to include a few pages on this in the User's Manual. After all, if America isn't fit, they won't be around to buy equipment. So we may as well all jump on the bandwagon to promote being active all the time.