John Cisna, a former Iowa science teacher, claims he lost 60 pounds by eating McDonald's food and taking daily walks over the course of six months. But now he has become a target for the ire of public health advocates because he is telling his story in US schools and being paid by the fast-food chain for doing it.
Lisa Baertlein reports for Reuters that the negativity comes at the same time Steve Easterbrook, Chief Executive of McDonald's Corporation, is fighting to make the 60-year-old business into a "modern, progressive, burger company."
One of Easterbrook's challenges is to win over young people who have been influenced by documentaries such as Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation, and who now view McDonald's products as contributors to obesity, diabetes, and other serious illnesses.
Cisna's students created an experiment that had as its goal putting their science teacher on a strict low-calorie diet and having him eat only McDonald's menu items. Cisna wrote a book last year called My McDonald'a Diet: How I Lost 37 Pounds in 90 Days and became a Viral Media Sensation.
Before very long, McDonald's hired Cisna as a "brand ambassador" and currently pays him to travel to schools to tell his story, said Lisa McComb, a spokesperson for the company. So far, Cisna has spoken at around 90 schools, and the majority of his sessions have taken place at colleges and high schools.
His program includes the viewing of a 20-minute documentary, "540 Meals: Choices Make a Difference," along with a teachers' guide, both of which were edited by McDonald's.
"John's story is not a weight loss plan, and we do not recommend that anyone eat every meal at one restaurant every day for an extended period," said McComb. "While the decision on how schools choose to educate and inform their students is up to them, we support John's desire as a teacher to provide students with facts to make informed choices."
Cisna limited himself to 2,000 calories a day, but he did eat every item on the menu at least one time, including desserts, writes Dan Mitchell of Fortune.
Freelance writer Bettina Elias Siegel, who writes a blog called The Lunch Tray, is incensed by the whole idea. She called the documentary a "veritable infomercial for the beleaguered fast food chain."
Seigel notes that anyone can lose weight if calories are reduced and if exercise is added to the daily regimen, but eating fatty, salty, sugary foods is a dangerously unhealthy approach to weight reduction. Worse, she added, is the fact that this information is instilling in children the harmful message that eating fast-food regularly is a harmless thing to do.
Cisna's experiment contrasts starkly with Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, in which Spurlock ate only McDonald's food for 30 days. The 2004 film chronicled his physical and psychological deterioration and was viewed to be a critique of the fast-food chain and the fast-food business for contributing to the nation's obesity rate, according to Adam Lidgett of International Business Times.
Declining sales have motivated McDonald's to try changing the way its burgers are cooked, to test the sale of lobster rolls, and to offer breakfast items all day.