Future Tense

McDonald’s Tried to Encourage Healthy Living but Ended Up Literally Burning Children

Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

Wearables have become a cheaper and more accessible commodity in the United States over the last few years. But as McDonald’s learned this month, we may not be quite ready to mass-produce the technology—and especially not for children.

The fast food giant made a splash when it said that starting Aug. 9 it would replace the traditional Happy Meal toy in the United States and Canada with a McDonald’s-branded fitness tracker called Step-iT. Per the press release issued by McDonald’s, “Physical activity is important to everyone of all ages. We very much support children’s well-being. Step-it is in line with McDonald’s general philosophy for Happy Meal toys, which is to make toys that encourage either physical or imagination-based play.”

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Available in six colors to encourage kids to collect ‘em all, the tracker looked to complement apple slices and milk as replacements for soda and fries in the children’s menu, the latest attempt to win over the hearts and minds of doting helicopter parents everywhere. It was a noble endeavor, for sure. But it didn’t go quite as the corporate bigwigs hoped.

On Aug. 17, it was announced that McDonald’s was discontinuing distribution of the Step-iT bands due to concerns about skin irritations and burns and a bevvy of complaints about the devices on social media. Just under one week later, the company and the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of all bands that had been distributed.

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Though the corporate press release was mild and brief, McDonald’s also launched a very specific FAQ document, available through the Happy Meal promotional website. It’s there that it revealed this very interesting tidbit: It had no absolutely idea where things went so wrong.

Q5: What is causing the skin irritation or burns from the wristbands? 
A5: McDonald’s is aggressively investigating this issue and hopes to have more information in the near future. While we do not yet know what may be causing these incidents, we believe it is appropriate to recall these wristbands from consumers in an abundance of caution.

That’s basically the corporate-speak equivalent of the shruggie.

While it’s not immediately clear whether McDonald’s will resume this endeavor in the future, it’s safe to say that we learned a valuable lesson here: We’re just not ready to mass-produce wearable tech that can be paired with fast food. And we certainly shouldn’t be giving it to children.

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