On Tuesday, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to pass a law requiring restaurant kids' meals to meet certain nutritional standards before they can be sold with toys. For example, the new law forces fast-food chains like McDonald's to make their children's meals healthier or stop selling them with toys.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, if the ordinance passes its final vote next week, it will go into effect in December 2011. Beginning in 2011, restaurants will only be able to give toys away with kids' meals if the meal contains less than 600 calories, has less than 640 milligrams of sodium and less than 35 percent of the calories are derived from fat (less than 10 percent from saturated fat), except for fat contained in nuts, seeds, eggs or low-fat cheese.
In beverages, less than 35 percent of the total calories can come from fat, and less than 10 percent from added sweeteners. In addition, the meals must contain a half-cup or more of fruit and three-quarters of a cup or more of vegetables. A breakfast meal must contain at least a half-cup of fruit or vegetables.
Backers of the ordinance say it aims to promote healthy eating habits while combating childhood obesity. Also, activists who support the measure said they hope efforts like this would curb childhood obesity, perhaps starting a trend that would spread to other cities, states and the country.
"It's not a ban; it's an incentive. We're part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice," said Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the measure. "Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of color," added Mar.
"From San Francisco to New York City, the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country is making our kids sick, particularly kids from low income neighborhoods, at an alarming rate. It's a survival issue and a day-to-day issue," stated Mar.
Opponents of the law include the National Restaurant Association and McDonald's. "We are extremely disappointed. It's not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for," said McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud. Since 1979, McDonald’s has used it Happy Meal to pioneer the use of free toys to market directly to children.
"This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children's health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment," Mar said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of American children are overweight or obese. In some states, the childhood obesity rate is over 30 percent.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest this summer threatened to sue McDonald's if it did not stop using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants.
In 2006, the latest year for which data is available, fast-food companies led by McDonald's spent more than $520 million on advertising and toys to promote meals for children, according to a U.S. Federal Trade Commission report. When the efforts of other food and beverage companies were included, promotional spending aimed at children topped $1.6 billion.
Scott Rodrick, an owner and operator of 10 McDonald's restaurants in the city, said, "There will be sales loss, there may be jobs impacted, and I know the city of San Francisco will lose tax income to people wanting a McDonald's experience without government intervention."
According to Rodrick anyone could circumvent the law easily. Someone doesn't have to travel very far — a mile outside San Francisco — to get the traditional McDonald's Happy Meals experience.
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