Are You Happy about the New Happy Meal?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last summer McDonald's was in the news regarding concerns over toys served with Happy Meals. Earlier this year McDonald's was back in the news with concerns over a new commercial campaign. McDonald's has also recently made renovations to their look and has added foods intended to be healthier such as oatmeal and fruit smoothies.
Last week McDonald's hit the news again when the President of McDonald's USA, Jan Fields, introduced plans on Good Morning America for a new Happy Meal. The traditional Happy Meal of a hamburger, fries, and a soda has been tempting or satisfying children (depending on how you look at it) for the past thirty years. Relatively unchanged, the standard meal provides about 570 calories and 20 grams of fat. The new Happy Meal will reduce that total by about 100 calories and 6 grams of fat. Some see the changes as a positive response to concerns over childhood obesity. Others see it as the typical business of marketing.  Perhaps it is a little of both but it certainly can't hurt especially in light of the new Kids Live Well campaign. So is the new meal worth all the hype? Your answer to that may depend on whether you are "glass half-full" or "glass half-empty" type of person.

Glass Half-Full View
  • Adding healthier food options and specialty coffees to their menus allows McDonald's to keep up with growing trends.

  • While the standard meal has been around for a long time so has low-fat milk. Apple slices were added to the list of options starting in 2004.

  • Since McDonald's research found that 88 percent of customers were aware of healthier options, only 11 percent of Happy Meal purchases took advantage of them. Because McDonald's support healthier meals, it makes total sense that they would want to make a change in their standard Happy Meal offering.  

Starting in September and spreading to more than 14,000 McDonald's locations nationwide by early 2012, the new improved Happy Meal will include:
  • A new smaller 1.1-ounce portion, down from the current 2.4 ounces of fries
  •  A bag of apple slices equal to a half serving of fruit. For those that do not wish to have fries at all, two bags of apple slices without fries is also an option and this would equal a complete fruit serving. To help reduce the sugar content of the meal, McDonald's will be phasing out the caramel dipping sauce as well.
  • Patrons can also choose between a hamburger, cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets as well as fat-free chocolate milk, 1 percent low-fat white milk or soda.
  • In addition to the changes over the coming year, they outlined long-term goals as well. They aim to reduce sodium by 15 percent across all national menu food choices by 2015. By 2020, McDonald's hopes to reduce added sugars, saturated fat, and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations, and innovations.
Glass Half-Empty View
  • McDonald's has routinely offered healthier alternatives such as milk or juice instead of soda, sliced apples instead of fries and 100 percent white meat chicken nuggets instead of a hamburger so this change isn't offering anything new.

  • The new meal only saves 100 calories and a measly 6 grams of fat.

  • Dr. Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, feels this is only a tiny step in the right direction. According to her comments to CBS News, what she really wants to see is a default Happy Meal so parents don't have to worry about anything that is in it. Removing soda completely in favor of milk as a default would be a bigger step according to her. However, the Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America reports that milk is one of the most common food allergens in children. Because of this, allowing parents to choose milk for their child instead of assuming it is safe for all children is the safer approach even though it does require parents to be involved decision makers for their child instead of the fast food restaurant.

  • Other critics of the new Happy Meal changes share displeasure with such a small fruit serving size that is only half of a fruit serving. They believe the fries should be left out all together in favor of a complete fruit serving as the standard. That way children are getting what they need and fries would only be served to those parents that ask for them.

  • While McDonald's is reducing their calories by 20 percent, sodium by 15 percent and saturated fat by 20 percent on average, skeptics wonder why McDonald's refused to join 19 other fast food chains several weeks ago with the Kids Live Well campaign. Did they refrain from joining because their happy meal already was less than the recommended 600 calories or because they only wanted to serve half a fruit serving in their standard meal? Regardless of the reason, McDonald's has gone their own way and many feel they could do much more to make their children's meal as healthy as possible.
My Bottom Line
Recent concerns over child-focused commercials lose me. When I think back to the previous campaigns, they were intentionally child focused and no one apologized for or questioned it. Why would they target children? Because marketers know that selling a kids meal means you are also sure to sell an adult meal or two as well. McDonald's has surely written the book on fast food marketing, I mean, who my age can't sing the Big Mac song. Has McDonald's Happy Meal contributed to the childhood obesity epidemic over the last thirty years? They most likely have and many other chains have certainly followed right along causing all fast food chains to contribute to the problem.  The way I see it, the problem isn't because of the meal that is offered as much as it is about the frequency in which that meal is enjoyed.
Dietitians say that any food can be incorporated into a healthy diet as long as it is in moderation. Enjoying a standard Happy Meal once a month or once a day makes a big difference to the health of the child consuming it. However, the choice for the Happy Meal selection and frequency resides with the parent, grandparent or guardian and not the child. Offering the apples with the fries may get a few more children a fruit with their meal. However, we may also see a huge increase in food waste because kids won't eat away from home what they are not used to eating at home.
I agree that offering a standard meal that doesn't include any fried foods, a full serving of a fruit and a serving of milk would be the healthiest meal possible. For those families that routinely include fruit and milk with their meals at home and want to do it when they eat away from home, families can make those choices. However, many families don't regularly include milk with their meals anymore. We have been hearing that many families don't regularly have fresh fruits and vegetables with their meals so it make sense that McDonald's has decided to take it slower approach in transitioning their children's meal. I see the small steps McDonald's is taking as positive. They may help families take small steps to new lifestyle choices when eating at home as well.
I hope next year at this time McDonald's is announcing a new improved Happy Meal that takes another step towards the "perfect" meal many believe is necessary. With any luck along the way, families will also begin including milk with their meals again at home and making fruits and vegetables a part of every meal. These positive lifestyle changes will be necessary day in and day out, if we are to beat the childhood obesity problem faced today.
How do you see the new changes to the Happy Meal? Do you have a glass half-full or glass-half empty perspective of the new meal? What else is missing?

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MODERATION IS THE KEY!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its all about choices. You dont want your kids to eat it all the time then start by not buying it all the time just because it is easy. What about A&W, Burger King, KFC, and other fast food places? Choices choices choices
My glass is half full when thinking about the progress the Happy Meals are making. We must give them credit for the baby steps that they are taking. And it is not always just for the kids. I order a Happy Meal for myself as it is much more reasonable as far as a portion size. And if I remember right, McDonald's offers orange juice all day now instead of just for breakfast. That is a real plus in my eyes! Report
I am definitely looking at this with a glass half empty look. I feel like McDonald's is only trying to appease the public and growing trends and not making actual changes. But, at the same time, it is McDonald's we are talking about. Happy Meals and fast food has been around forever, however childhood obesity has only been an extreme issue within the past decade. If parents regulated how often their children ate this food and their children views on healthy eating, their wouldn't be an issue in the first place.
Yea for Mickey D's! I agree with others who post that other chains are as bad or worse!! Ever look at KFC's charts? There is NOTHING on their menu I can eat. NOTHING..
I used to eat there until my health problems.. a lot!!
I cannot be sure, but I feel safe in saying that McDonald's does not give their food away and children do not usually walk there to get their meals. Who is in control? They do have healthy alternatives, but they never claimed to be a health food place..
Salad, parfaits, grilled chicken, unsweetened iced tea(brewed there of course) a re great foods that they never used to offer..
common sense is not on their menu, it is IMPLIED! Report
I agree with so many people who have posted here...McDonald's didn't make your kids fat! You, the parent, who have brought your kid to McDonald's 3-4 times a week since they had teeth have made them fat and instilled in them that it is okay to eat that way. I say good for McDonald's for at least trying to add some healthier options to their menu. And that's just it...they are options. Ultimately it is up to the consumer to make the decision. I like to eat french fries once in a while and I would like them to be there when my once in a while comes!

Edit: And DIANNJOSE you are absolutely right! 1 or 2% is just fine! Report
Old wives tale: Kids do not need whole milk. 1% is totally fine for kids over 2. Ask your doctor. Report
This is McDonald's. It is not a vegan/organic/whole foods/co-op/farmer's market! We all know what they sell. If you choose to go here, you know exactly what you will get, which is probably why you walked in the front door in the first place. Just because you have buyer's remorse and wish that you were never tempted does not mean they need to take it upon their shoulders to change their menu to make you feel better about yourself. If you don't like it, DON'T GO. You do have the option to pack an apple or a PB sandwich for you or your kids. Report
My kids love the toys. One son loves the nuggets. He gets the apple and milk, but insists on dipping the apple in the carmel sauce. oh well. The other son says the burgers hurt his stomach so I end up just buying him the toy and an ice cream cone and feeding him elsewhere. It used to be more conveinent for me. Now it is more of ordeal and the lady at the counter is deffinitely sick of me always asking for identical toys or entertaing their need to see "all the choices". Report
i often wonder, if parents dont take their children to mcdonalds, ever, would they really miss it?
i mean, im not even talking about depriving them on purpose, but just not even getting them started there, ever, would kids still crave it, just for the toys? games or colorful characters?
feed your kids a nice healthy meal, and on occasion if you really want to, treat them to a kids cone, or a milkshake.
but make sure they are getting exercise, fresh air, water, sunshine and sleep. Report
This is crap. When I got to McDonalds I want FRENCH FRIES! Greasy, salty, french fries! When was the last time I had McDonald's french fries? Probably 6 months ago because I'm eating healther but dammit - if I want french frieds (and McDonald's are the BEST) I don't want he government telling me I can't, just because some parents use fast food as a daily meal source for their kids! Fast food should be an occasional treat - NOT dinner on a daily basis. Report
Kids need whole milk! Report
Personally, I think that this whole thing is ridiculous! Why is McDonald's the only one (at least in the media) getting a bad rap? What about Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy's, etc. ?

You have a choice to buy these meals or not. If you think that they are not healthy or acceptable for your child then don't buy them. Take responsibility for your actions and quit blaming fast food companies for making everyone fat and unhealthy. Report
But don't you think - that it is the parent who needs to be strong and teach their child and then set the example to eat correctly? But at least this is a step in the right direction.... Report
I dont believe that fast food measl for kids is total evil! I feed them to my sons maybe once a week.
I do think the the supersizing of all meals in fast food is the culprite. As a kids I wnet ot McD back then in the late 60's very small selections and reg buger, fries and drink was the meal, and you ate it and felt good, satisfied. Today this is what we call a happy meal to feed kids......get it. Portions are the problem and as adults and parents that is what we need to control, teach ourselves and our kids how to eat correct portions of a variety of items to a balanced healthy diet.
I worked with my sons thorugh their life, did they all good choices nope, but they did learn and now as 20's they see the results and have changed to eat better portions.
I am glad McD and others are adding healthier choice to all their menus and the more we as comsumers buy those and not the over sized items, the more they will alter the menu to addeven better things. Report
i am not happy with the new happy meal. if they really wanted more buissness and to also be healthy they would offer vegetarian and vegan options as well. Report
Kids don't eat that often at McD's so to me it isn't a big concern. I'm more concerned that many kids eat Pop Tarts and Sugary Cereals for breakfast each day, and Mac/Cheese for lunches with no fruit or vegetables, etc. Report
Seriously people - McD's is NOT healthy. Moderation is the key. Perhaps the scariest quote in the blog is "require parents to be involved decision makers for their child instead of the fast food restaurant." Yes, parenting well requires you to be involved and make good decisions for your child. I like the old option where you got to choose between fries and apple slices. My niece always choose choc. milk and apple slices. Eat well at home and live active and the occasional Happy Meal (even with fries) is fine.

I believe anything in the healthier direction is acceptable as long as it keeps improving. Today, less fat and calories, next year, more trends in healthier choices, etc. until we have seen an improvement in our children's ideas of meal choices. You wouldn't want someone to rip away your favorite unhealthy food when you first joined SP and started learning the new lifestyle, why should a child who has been allowed to have the unhealthy lifestyle have to change overnight and feel deprived and treated unfairly. I do not believe McDs is a healthy option by any means, especially on a daily basis, but as a treat, okay. Slow changes last longer than quick changes, as we are all learning. Report
I agree that going to McDs is a treat and good for them for giving some healthier options. Parents are responsible for the general diet their children eat so a nice treat is a fun thing. Report
McD's, like so many restaurants, has responded to consumer wishes over the years--in the fifties, the standard adult meal was today's happy meal. Portions got bigger because of demand and the need to be competitive. Today, they're changing again to be healthier because that's what people want. I agree that making the apple portion smaller is a step in the wrong direction and yet offering them with every meal IS a step in the right direction.

Give McD's this feedback, everybody. Write to THEM and offer PRACTICAL solutions. They have to make a profit to stay in business.

But for me the bottom line is: Good on McD's for listening to the consumer trend of going healthier and parents need to make good choices and teach their kids to make them, too. It's not up to McD's to feed my kids, that's up to ME. It's not up to them to feed my kids something healthy and filling--that is up to ME. Lazy parents blame McDonald's for their kids being fat instead of looking to themselves. Chances are your fat six year old doesn't have car keys or money for a happy meal on their own, you understand. Report
I guess I'm a glass half empty type, because I am personally disgusted by this. They are NOT making any positive change. They are NOT offering anything new. What they ARE doing is now reducing how many apples my children will get if we ever return to McDonald's. Right now, the bag of apples is 3.1 ounces, and my kids have no problem finishing that and would happily eat more. The new serving of apples will be 1.2 ounces... and even when I ask to get double the apples and no fries, I will still be getting only 2.4 ounces of apples. So again, IF I ever return to McDonald's, I will be paying the same amount of money for LESS apples. Tell me again how McDonald's is making my children healthier?? And my fear is that all the people who let their kids eat nothing but french fries right now will (A) throw away the apples, (B) opt for double fries with no apples, or (C) order an additional, larger order of fries for their kids on TOP of the Happy Meal to please their children when they complain about the small size of the fries that comes with the meal. Again, HOW exactly does this help children? I am mystified. I simply DON'T get this decision at all. Report
I think it is important to teach moderation. Good habits most of the time with a splurge at McDonalds occasionally. Let the children learn to make their own choices with guidance now so later they can make good choices when no one is watching. Report
I see it as a step in the right direction. Wish they had done it when my kids were younger. Hope others will make healthy menu changes too! Report
I guess I'm a "glass half full" type of person. I think this is a good step, and for parents who choose to go for the traditional happy meal for their children, they can still request it, so it's not that McDonalds is trying to take over control of what people feed their kids...if anything, McDonalds has only responded to consumer demand to make healthier choices easier.

I'm also happy to hear about their plan to reduce sodium in their menu items. I just wish that A) they would try to reduce the sodium by a bit more than 15% and be a bit quicker about it and B) more companies would commit to doing the same with their food products, including those who make things like canned soup, lunchmeat and frozen food. If you're someone who watches your sodium intake at all, you probably know how easy it is to go over your limit if you eat even a couple of convenience food items in a day.

Also, someone said something about being sorry to hear that they are getting rid of the caramel dip...I don't think they are getting rid of it, just phasing it out of the Happy Meals. Report
I have to laugh at PRINCESSBEITER and a few other commenters who wrote about how the new happy meals = goverment interfering with our lives. McDonald's is a private corporation that voluntarily decided to change its offerings! There's little, if any, mention of the government in this blog! I'm hoping that this is just an error coming from reading too quickly and that these people don't actually think McDonald's is the government ;) Report
I really hate to say this, but I think PARENTS should be making the choice to feed their children healthy foods rather than the government dictating it.

I know most parents don't eat right and, therefore, don't feed their children healthy foods, but do we need a "nanny state?" Report
We don't eat at McDonalds or other fast food places in general,but I have to agree with the ones that are saying it is supposed to be a treat, not an everyday menu item, because you don't have the time or don't want to make the time to prepare your family or yourself a healthier meal option. What's wrong with having a toy with their meal? I grew up in a generation that got toys with their kids meals. Its called go outside and play, or take your kids to the park, rec center,or ymca. Turn off the television and enjoy the outdoors. Not all kids need to lose weight either, my 5 yr old is Autistic and he has issues gaining weight. I was told several times by his Pediatrician to give him higher calorie foods. Report
I don't understand this comment: "allowing parents to choose milk for their child instead of assuming it is safe for all children is the safer approach even though it does require parents to be involved decision makers for their child instead of the fast food restaurant." It makes it sound as if the parents should not be the ones in charge of their children and what they eat. Parents need to be completely in charge and take the responsibility to do so. I am really tired of our country choosing to blame the restaurant business community for the obesity issue. People need to take responsibility for what they do and what their children do. If people choose to eat unhealthy (and it is a choice!!), that is their issue and not the restaurant's problem. If McDonald's wants to make healthier foods, then good for them! But choosing to do so should be because they want to do this, not to improve their image of fattening up America. That's just ridiculous.

I COMPLETELY agree with Tanya here. It's the frequency of the meals, not necessarily the quality, that is most important. My kids love McDs, but they love Subway just as much. We eat at each place once or twice a month. I pack their lunches so I can include food from all of the food groups and I know it isn't greasy or fried. On those occasions we go through McDs, I let them spring for that greasy meal if it's what they want. Afterall.......that greasy food is what Mom wants, too. =) It's nice to indulge on an occasional basis. Report
I think McDonald's is doing this for marketing. Isn't the point of going to McDonald's to get a burger, fries, and a drink? The end of child obesity starts at home. If parents want a healthy meal, make dinner at home. No time? Grab a Lunchable or something from home. Taking a few minutes to grab something from home is cheaper and will take no more time than sitting in the drive thru. Use McDonalds, or any other fast food, as a treat. Not a way of life. Report
I am of the camp who believe that it should be the parents who make the decision what to feed or not feed their kids. IMHO, parents should not make McDonald's a regular place to feed their kids. Report
I was going through my excercise DVDs yesterday because some of the neighborhood girls were over and asked to do yoga with me after seeing my mat on the floor. I found one from McDonalds from a few years ago when you got a DVD with a salad. It was a great 15-minute intro that they (ages 9 & 13) could follow along with. Kudos to McDonald's for doing things like that, but it's all about leading by example. Report
I never took my kids to any fast food places when we ate out ( not very often) I always tired to go to places with lots of variety so they could try new foods, also when at home they ate what I cooked or went hungrey. Report
I agree that it's up to the parents.
My daughter is four. If we make a special trip to McDonald's, she asks for white milk ("soda is too sweet") and the apple slices without the caramel sauce ("french fries are too salty"). She's a perfect BMI and is already learning about making good food choices because we talk about it, without harping at her. It's really up to the parents to have a positive influence.
I really get tired of people blaming McDonalds for children being over weight. My coworker took his girlfriend's son to McDonalds on an outing and he tried to order 2 big mac meals. He's about 12 and definitely overweight. My coworker told him no, he could have 1 (still not good). Apparently the kid started to have a tantrum and he was like--that or nothing. So the kid took it. But apparently, this kid's mom would let him order 2 big mac meals when they would go. Crazy. Parents need to be responsible. Would you let him buy two Hungry man tv dinners at the grocery store for one meal? Would you let him eat an entire box of cereal for breakfast. It's the same thing. Be responsible. Report
they are also a sponsor of the olympics in an effort to show kids to move more
it's a step in the right direction but parents have to take some responsibility too. I know I am! Report
I live in a country that was built around freedom. As such, I believe in a free market system. Businesses should be able to sell junk food if they want to. Where is the responsibility on the buyer? "Caveat emptor" ~ "Let the buyer beware". McDonalds is not evil. They are marketing something. Hmmm.... That's what businesses in the "market" do.

If the demand for healthy food was there, someone would be selling it. Perhaps it is more the health profession that has let us all down. Doctors who would rather diagnose some condition that "makes us fat" so they can get money off of our regular visits to treat said condition and all the other condition that manifest from being overweight. A lot of our health professionals are lying to us. McDonalds is not. And they do have healthy choices there. I love their grilled chicken sandwich on a whole wheat bun with nothing but tomato on top! : ) But they don't need to be strong-armed into joining some initiative with some fancy name everyone tosses around like it's the savior of fat America. Free market, people... put's the responsibility back on us. I know that scares us, but I say we take responsibility for our own selves again. I'd rather do that than get taxed to death just so the government can make all our decisions for us. Report
I'm not sure what I'M going to order at McDonald's, now -- every few months I have a cheat meal at the fast food chain, and I always get a happy meal because of the reasonable portion sizes. I applaud McDonald's attempts to do reasonable portions for kids -- I'm hoping they'll start doing it for adults, too! Report
"Parents have to start parenting"
But they are not - that is why innocent children are starting life obese & unhealthy. As a society we need to protect the innocent children whose parents aren't making the right choices.
McDonald's (and many other companies like it) are too cheap. And too easy. At least if they make some changes, those parents who don't 'parent' are having healthy decisions made easier. Report
McDonalds and other fast food chains have made gazillions of dollars "helping" people get fat and now they're going to make gazillions more jumping onto the "healthy food" bandwagon. It's a business; shareholders don't care what kind of food they sell as long as the bottomline is right. I'm happy to say even when my kids were in school and peer pressure was big, fast food meals were few and far between. An apple is the best "fast food" for anybody; easy to prepare, carry and eat. Report
It's called personal responsibility. Eating out is a great way to bring up the conversation with your children and teach them about eating healthy and being able to say "no". A great way to teach life lessons. Children leave home one day and they need to have the skills to make good decisions. If those opportunities are taken away, how will they ever learn. They will definitely gain those "freshman fifteen" if they don't learn early. Be a parent!
I agree that parents need to do the parenting and pay attention to what their child eats -- and how often they eat fast food. Eating out (fast food or not) is a treat at my house. As it eating processed frozen meals. Honestly, the food at McDonald's isnt much worse than what some people buy at the grocery -- cookies, chips, candies, soda? I'm not like a "food police" but I do firmly believe that eating healthy needs to start 'at home' not w/some of the people that complain aobut fast food but then have a pantry full of "junk".

BTW, we do have "junk" at my house -- no soda, no koolaid, but there is always cookies in the cookie jar . . . and fresh fruit in the fruit bowl, etc. It's all about balance. Report
"...even though it does require parents to be involved decision makers for their child instead of the fast food restaurant." as part of Glass Half Empty? The parents should be involved decision makers for what their kids eat. Of course, if they eat at home more often, it wouldn't be so much of an issue.

Maybe the time spent cooking should be viewed by parents as investments in their families as well as opportunities for the kids to learn important life skills from the ones who should be teaching them.

Our family tends to go to Carl's Jr. when we want fast food, and there are no such healthier options for kids there. Indeed, except for the new Turkey Burgers (which are terrible, BTW), Carl's seems to be going in the opposite direction - towards more indulgence and bigger, greasier foods.
Still, we limit how often we visit there. Going there is a treat - not an example of how they eat all the time. Report
If McDonald's offered a fresh sandwich with fruit servings for kids they would call it Subway. Report
I think it's encouraging that fast food restaurants like McDonald's are listening to consumers and making changes toward healthier menus. We all benefit from these changes whether we need to lose weight or not. Report
I agree with all who said that parents should pay attention more. I have been keeping within 400 calorie all summer when we have our visits to Mickey D's. With our three year old. Like all things in life you need to pay attrantion to why you are putting in your body. That is not MacDonald's responsibility. Report
Yea for the people that actually suggested parents parenting their children. I got McDonalds Happy Meals as treats when I was a kid. There were no healthier choices then and I was at a normal weight all of my child years. Thanks to my parents having me eat healthy and being able to say "no" to their child. Whos fault is it me being overweight now-mine. Whos at fault for their children being overweight-The PARENTS!!! (except medical conditions of course) Parents take some control and cook at home vegtables and fruit take no time at all to prepare! Why is McDonalds at fault for having to high of calorie meals! Good for them for even offering healthy choices! Don't tell me people dont know how many calories is in that stuff its posted everywhere! Its laughable when you hear Mcdonalds made my child fat no you the parent made your child fat! Report
I think its a step in the right direction. However, parents also need to learn to guide their children's food decisions. I also would like to see something like baby carrots offered instead of 2 bags of apples if you don't want fries, and maybe something like grilled chicken strips instead of chicken nuggets would improve it even more. Of course, I also know that parents still have to make the choice, and if they choose to eat at McDonald's frequently, they are probably not that focused on healthy choices. Report
I think it's great to incl other options, but anyone who eats at McD's isn't eating there because it's healthy. It's FAST FOOD. It's supposed to be unhealthy. You're supposed to eat it only every now and again. You are not supposed to eat there everyday. People need to get real and stop flipping out and holding everyone else responsible for they way they eat and they allow their children to eat. MODERATION people. Use freaking MODERATION. And, as far as the Happy Meals are concerned, nice way to "make it healthier", slim down the portion and still make me pay full price- if not more the way they usually do it. Report