On Blacks and Fat: McDonald’s Senior VP

We spoke about fast food and black obesity to Greg Watson, who is tasked with making the chain's menu healthier.

Greg Watson (McDonald's)
Greg Watson (McDonald's)

(The Root) — Obesity is more common in African Americans than in other ethnic groups. But when it comes to black people and weight, that’s where the agreement seems to end. Is food the culprit? Is exercise the solution? Is there even a real problem to begin with, or should we be focusing on health — or even self-acceptance — rather than the number on the scale?

Against the backdrop of a first lady’s mission to slim down the nation’s kids, black celebs getting endorsements after shedding inches and a booming weight-loss industry, The Root will publish a series of interviews with medical professionals, activists and fitness enthusiasts that reveal the complexity of this issue and the range of approaches to it.

For the 14th in the series, we spoke to Greg Watson, senior vice president of menu innovation at McDonald’s USA, at a Washington, D.C., event highlighting what the restaurant calls its “nutrition journey.” What that means is calorie counts on restaurant and drive-through menus nationwide starting last month, a “Favorites Under 400” campaign featuring lower-calorie items and healthier choices (including more fruits and vegetables, and egg-white breakfast sandwiches on whole-grain English muffins) in the works for 2013.

We asked Watson, who’s responsible for keeping the McDonald’s menu up to date and in line with customer preferences (which, these days, often have to do with health), about what the changes could mean for African Americans and obesity specifically.

“We think it is just going to be a natural way for us to help out in the community,” he told The Root.

Here’s what else he had to say about his industry’s take on obesity, what the company knows about African-American food preferences and what he believes fast-food fruits and veggies could do for urban food deserts.

Read the rest of the interviews in the series here, and check out the rest of The Root‘s obesity coverage here.

The Root: According to the latest statistics, African Americans are 1.5 times as likely as whites to be obese. Did you consider any special focus on the needs and preferences of the black community when revamping the menu to include calorie counts and healthier foods?

Greg Watson: When we develop our new menu items, we’re thinking pretty broadly about the U.S. population. We know that we serve a lot of customers — somewhere in the area of 25 million every day. So it’s a pretty broad consumer base. But we know that the overall trends are prevalent across multiple segments. The concerns about getting more whole grains, lower-calorie options and portion control, and more fruits and vegetables are applicable to the African-American community.