Citing Obesity of Children, County Bans Fast-Food Toys
(NY TIMES) SAN FRANCISCO — It was not a happy day for the Happy Meal.
In what it described as a blow against the fattening temptations of fast food, the board of supervisors in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, voted Tuesday to ban the promotional toys that often accompany child-size portions of cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets if those meals don’t meet certain nutritional standards.
The criteria, which are based on federal standards and recommendations from the nonprofit Institute of Medicine, would apply to all fast-food restaurants giving away toys in meals in-tended for children. Ken Yeager, the board president, said the new law would level “the playing field by taking away the incentive to choose fatty, sugary foods over healthier options.”
“What we’re trying to do is de-link the connection between unhealthy food and toys,” said Mr. Yeager, who added that he believed children chose their meals based on the giveaway that came with it. “Why would a kid say ‘I want a burger with fries’? It’s the toys that they want.”
The law, the first of its kind, will allow restaurants to give away toys as long as the meals don’t contain excessive calories, sodium, sugar or fat. “This ordinance does not attack toys,” Mr. Yeager said just before the board passed the law by a 3-2 vote. “Toys, in and of themselves, do not make children obese.”
One of four children in Santa Clara is obese, with even higher rates among low-income residents, a target audience for the various cheap meals that fast-food restaurants offer. Obesity is also a big problem nationwide. Two-thirds of adults 20 years and over are overweight or obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Numbers for children and adolescents are much lower, however, ranging from 11 to 18 percent.
Mr. Yeager, who does not have children, said the law would take effect this summer after a final vote in May.
Walt Riker, a spokesman for McDonald’s, said it was disappointed by the board’s action, adding that “our Happy Meals provide many of the important nutrients that children need,” including zinc, iron and calcium.