Purveyor of burgers to the planet, McDonald's, is promoting the health benefits of exercise.

In a call to arms to weight-conscious consumers across the globe, the fast food giant has unveiled a new TV advertising campaign fronted by top athletes such as tennis aces Venus and Serena Williams.

The ads, which encourage young people to be more active, are "an attempt to keep up with customers' concerns about health". McDonald's firmly denies they are a response to criticism over its perceived role in the rising levels of childhood obesity.

Says ceo Jim Skinner: "We are listening to our customers and committed to taking leadership action where we can make a difference."

While global marketing chief Larry Light makes the point: "The target is not marketing to children. The target is childhood obesity."

Not everyone is convinced, however. Contends John Banzhaf, a public interest lawyer leading the anti-obesity movement: "Exercising cannot possibly compensate for eating fattening meals of the kind that McDonald's spend billions of dollars to promote.

"Telling kids that they can remain slim simply by engaging in regular exercise, and not passing up the Golden Arches, is deceptive."

Latest figures released by McDonald's show sales were up in the US last month by 4.6% but the picture in Europe was not so healthy, with sales falling by 3.4%.

Skinner, nevertheless, remains upbeat about the company's performance, commenting: "We remain focused and disciplined as we work to strengthen our performance across Europe. I am confident we are taking the right steps to build sustainable momentum in this critical business segment."

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff