Yesterday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of killing the Happy Meal.
The five-member board in Silicon Valley voted 3 to 2 in favor of prohibiting fast food restaurants from offering prizes and toys that lure children into ordering high-calorie, high-sodium, high-fat meals. After a contentious meeting, where parents argued against parents, and health officials argued against restaurant owners, the board agreed to the ban.
Once the ordinance gets final approval at a meeting in May, businesses will have 90 days to come up with alternative meals that meet the board’s guidelines. Or they can quit offering toys.
We wrote about the proposed ban yesterday and the nutritional standards kids’ meals must meet and only a handful of commenters agreed with the radical action. Most thought parents should know better than to buy the meals. Some even thought the leaders should spend more time fixing school lunches.
What’s interesting is how protective people feel toward fast-food restaurants, food manufacturers, and mostly unregulated advertisers of products aimed at children. I think few parents argued against banning cute cartoons of Joe Camel, back when we realized tobacco companies were building brand identity with our Kindergartners. (Let’s remember, the fact that kids were attracted to those images had to be pointed out to the grown-ups.) RJR wasn’t shoving cigarettes in the kids’ mouths, but we all understand the connection between cute drawings and a softening of the parents’ message that cigarettes are bad for you.
I see the argument that the county’s ban appears to overreach. But it is a start in telling corporations that if they’re going to have unfettered access to kids, which they do, there has to be a trade-off: better options.
The ban’s an interesting test case. There’s no way the companies will give up the cross-promotional toys. Now we get to see what they come up with for less than 500 calories, only 10 percent from sugar (including drink!), and 600 mg of salt.
Kids! There’s a Littlest Pet Shop in your salad!
Oh, and check out who’s likely not sweating the ban: Subway.
Photos: LA Times