Don Thompson, currently McDonald’s president and chief operating officer, starts as chief executive officer of the company on July 1 of this year.

For the first time in its history, McDonald’s will have an African-American CEO. Will this change in leadership mean a change in the company’s marketing and health initiatives in the African-American community?

McDonald’s African-American customers bring in nearly 18 percent of the restaurant’s sales. Yet, with higher rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, some wonder if Thompson has an added responsibility to these customers.

The corporation argues that they have already put health initiatives into motion, preceding Thompson’s arrival as CEO.

“Don Thompson will continue to champion our company’s long-standing commitment to promoting balanced, active lifestyles in all of the communities where we have restaurants,” says Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, Vice President of the Global External Communications at McDonald’s.

Despite McDonald’s position as the number one fast food company in the world, its restaurants have changed their menus in light of rising obesity numbers, and the rise of Subway — a competing fast food company – which promotes a menu with healthier fast food options.

McDonald’s Corporation was the fifth-largest advertiser to African-American communities in a $1.9 billion dollar collective marketing effort in 2011 among several corporations. McDonald’s also promotes its African-American interest website, 365black.com, to further promote their brand to the community.
Most fast food nutrition guides include foods high in fat, salt, sugar and calories — all of which counter heart-healthy diets appropriate for a population afflicted with diabetes, obesity and stroke. And, salt, also called sodium, is a major factor in the development of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

“McDonald’s has already reduced sodium by 10 percent in the majority of its national chicken menu offerings,” says Sa Shekhem. “Sodium reductions will continue across the menu in accordance with our 2015 commitments.”

By 2015, McDonald’s also plans to reduce sodium by 15 percent across its entire U.S. menu, and by 2020, reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories with what Sa Shekhem calls “reformulations and innovations.”

With 22.4 percent of all African-American children weighing in as obese, healthier fast food — or no fast food — is a consideration for them as well. Sa Shekhem explains how McDonald’s plans to change how they market to children.

“This year, we will promote nutrition and active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of our national kids’ communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging,” she says. The produce and low-fat dairy options that many have seen in Happy Meals will be available at all 14,000 of their U.S. restaurants.

TheGrio then asked whether these healthy changes could be made while keeping prices — like the infamous dollar menu — affordable, but Sa Shekhem did not provide an answer.