Until now, McDonald's has been backing a program that shares nutrition advice with school students. The controversial program, said critics, was only a veiled form of fast-food advertising that could damage young people's nutrition and their understanding of how to eat in a healthy manner.
But now Roberto A. Ferdman, writing for The Washington Post, said the business has put a halt to visits from John Cisna, a teacher from Iowa, who traveled the country to explain to children his claim that he lost almost 60 pounds by eating only McDonald's food.
As for McDonald's, it said the program was inaugurated to educate young people about nutrition and healthy eating habits during a time in our history when fast foods are a key portion of many people's diets. The program was supported by local franchises and included a video documentary called 540 Meals: Choices Make a Difference, that explained how Cisna lost his extra weight.
But opponents said the idea subjected kids to a confusing theory that left children thinking that burgers and fries could regularly be included in a healthy diet. Despite the criticism, Cisna traveled for almost a full year, talking to students nationwide in over 90 middle and high schools about his weight loss while eating Big Macs and fries.
"John's currently focused on the opportunities that make the most sense for our brand at this time," Christina Tyler, a McDonald's spokesperson said. "Specifically, as our brand ambassador, John is currently focused on internal and local community events, and he is not appearing at schools."
Bettina Elias Siegel, an expert in food law, who is a member of the Houston school health advisory board, wrote about the program on her blog after she was approached by a franchisee about showing the documentary. She refused to be involved in the program.
Elias Siegel launched a Change.org platform asking for the McDonald's program to be stopped. The petition now has close to 90,000 supporters.
In an emailed statement, Cisna said:
"My focus has always been to encourage people to exercise and make more informed choices about food. Now I'm focused on and enjoying talking to employees and community groups about my story of choice and balance."
Cisna is the author of "My McDonald's Diet: How I lost 37 pounds in 90 days and became a viral media sensation." He receives a stipend for time and travel associated with his speaking engagements. The new McDonald's CEO has made a priority of working on the company's transformation into a "modern, progressive burger company."
The business published a statement that said Cisna is now focused on local community events and internal corporation affairs, but that he will not continue visiting schools.
McDonald's isn't alone when it comes to spreading erroneous information about nutrition, says Brenna Houck, reporting for Eater. The soda drink industry has launched research costing enormous amounts of money that contradicts the link between obesity and sugary carbonated beverages.
One study, originated by Coke and Pepsi, claims to have found a connection between the virtues of diet soda and the healthiness of water.
The Coca-Cola Corporation has also been known to make private arrangements with health scientists so that they will claim soda beverages can be a "healthy treat."