New York — McDonald’s says fewer people are picking soda for Happy Meals after it stopped listing the drinks as an option on its menu boards.

The world’s biggest hamburger chain said Thursday 48 percent of Happy Meal orders chose soda as a beverage in the U.S. after they were scrubbed from menus and marketing materials from July of last year to May. That’s down from 56 percent in the year-ago period.

The removal of soda as a listed option for Happy Meals is part of an ongoing push by McDonald’s Corp. to quiet critics who say it serves junk food and peddles unhealthy options to children.

Shaking that reputation is particularly important for McDonald’s, whose courtship of parents and children over the decades helped make it an industry leader.

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