US fast-food giant McDonald's, often accused of catering to expanding waistlines, has a new item on its menu for kids -- gyms.
The company is testing R Gyms -- in-restaurant mini-gyms with stationary bicycles hooked to video games, obstacle courses and aerobics exercises -- in seven of its restaurants to help customers age 4 to 12 fight flab as they ingest calories.
The latest R Gym, named for the restaurant's advertising mascot Ronald McDonald, opened in California earlier this month and the company is hoping to spread the concept across the United States.
"What we've been able to do with the R Gym is to provide our youngest customers with a more relevant contemporary experience, including games and activities that are more suitable to children's lifestyles today and of course tomorrow," Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald's told AFP.
But critics say the mini-gyms are but an attempt by the burger giant to polish its image at a time when Americans are increasingly aware of the health hazards linked to obesity.
"The number of calories that a child is likely to burn in one of those gyms is quite small compared to what they can eat, even in a small meal," said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.
It would take a child, for example, more than three hours of exercise to burn off a 200-calorie milkshake.
The new gyms would eventually replace play areas currently available in some 5,500 McDonald's outlets throughout the country.