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San Francisco Threatens to Kill Happy Meal Toys

By paulabernstein |

It hasn’t been a happy year for Happy Meals.

In April, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in Silicon Valley voted in favor of effectively banning Happy Meals.

Then, in June, the nonprofit group Center for Science in the Public Interest, threatened  McDonald’s with a lawsuit unless it stopped using toys to promote Happy Meals (so far, no lawsuit has been filed).

Now, San Francisco supervisor Eric Mar has introduced legislation that proposes prohibiting toys from Happy Meals and other kids meals unless the food meets certain nutritional guidelines. Basically, if the food contains too much fat, sugar, or salt, you can’t reward kids with a toy.

Although the new restrictions would pertain to all of the city’s restaurants, fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Jack in the Box and Burger King would be hardest hit, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

According to the proposed nutritional guidelines,  no single item in a kids meal could contain more than 200 calories or 480 milligrams of sodium. An entire kids meal could have no more than 600 calories. In other words, that would eliminate just about all of McDonald’s Happy Meal offerings.

Mar has said that the idea is to encourage restaurants to offer healthier food options. Certainly, I’m in favor of promoting healthier eating habits for kids. But, the question is: will this strategy work? And is it up to the government to mandate what sort of food restaurants can serve?

Mar’s proposal also mandates that meals with toys must have a serving of fruit and vegetables. But can anyone force children to eat their fruits and veggies?

Honestly, I’m torn on this issue. I’m against marketing sugary and high-fat foods to kids. But I also fear the prospect of a the government mandating what foods we can eat. Mar has assured critics that he has no plans to stop people from eating the high-fat and high-salt foods. Rather, his goal is to eliminate the toy incentive for kids to buy them.

When I’ve written about this issue in the past, people have pointed out that it’s the parents’ job to say “no” to their kids when they beg them to go to McDonald’s. Sure, that sounds good. But, clearly that strategy isn’t working. No only is childhood obesity becoming a dire epidemic, but McDonald’s stock price is at a record high.

What do you think? Will eliminating toys in unhealthy meals encourage kids to eat better? Or will it just make them sad that they’re not getting a toy with their Happy Meal?

Photo: flickr/happymealy

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About paulabernstein



Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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0 thoughts on “San Francisco Threatens to Kill Happy Meal Toys

  1. Sara says:

    Why don’t we concentrate on school lunches, they have a much larger effect on the health of kids than McDonalds. It would be difficult to find school lunches that fit that standard.

  2. jenny tries too hard says:

    No, eliminating toys will not encourage kids to eat better. The USDA feeds them nearly identical meals (chocolate milk is always on the menu at my kids’ school and nuggets or burgers are there at least once a week) for free, five days a week, as Sara pointed out. Meanwhile, normal families eat McD’s in a range of once a week to a few times a year. All this is likely to encourage is more layoffs of low-skilled workers, lowered tax revenue, wasted food (the fruits and veggies that will remain uneaten or unsold) and less community investment from fast-food franchise owners. Oh, it may possibly encourage more business at fast-food franchises in SF’s suburbs.

  3. goddess says:

    Exactly Sara- I was just going to post the same thing! Many schools serve the same garbage- subsidized by our tax dollars as well! Mozzarella sticks are an entree? KETCHUP and FRENCH FRIES are considered VEGETABLES! Breaded chicken-like patties on white buns served with tater tots? Cheeseburgers, footlong hot dogs……

  4. JZ says:

    Its like getting rid of spoons because people use them to eat ice cream. Dont make no sense!

  5. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Get rid of sporks! They are the utensil of the devil! That and the unholy alliance of the peanut butter and jelly in the same jar! Blasphemy!!!

  6. Ariel Trost says:

    Ok, I’ll be the lone dissenter. I say, go SF!!! (bay Area is also tackling the school lunch debacle). We no longer allow candy cigarettes…seems like a good parallel. SF isn’t mandating how you eat, only how you market. I have ZERO problem cleaning up the marketing/advertising.

  7. Huh? says:

    Agree with AT. No one’s banning them, just disallowing marketing techniques. Remember Joe Camel? Also, wahhh! Poor McDonald’s! (couldn’t resist!)

  8. Cookie Baking Nanny says:

    Part of the problem is that healthy food, like cereal and juice, cost much more than potato chips and juice. Trying eating only healthy and your grocery bill doubles. Should be the other way around. Maybe we should look at that?

  9. TC says:

    Agreed Cookie Baking Nanny. I’m always confused that we don’t have healthier low cost options with the same cartoon characters marketing to kids. It just goes to prove that government (once again) is focusing on the WRONG issues to avoid having to look in their own backyard (school lunches). Parents of Silicon Valley fooled again by the “look shiny” trick.

  10. Manjari says:

    I agree that our attention should be focused on school lunches. A private corporation can’t market junk food to kids, but public schools can serve it to kids who can’t choose to eat elsewhere?

    The movie Food Inc. does a good job of explaining why junk food is artificially cheap.

  11. [...] Apparently the Center for Science and the Public Interest, our nations leading Food Nazis, are going…. I’m relatively disappointed that our restaurant industry is, so far, taking a relatively passive approach to resisting these Food Fascists, these Meatball Mussolinis. If McDonald’s came out and said, “We’re going to stand up for the right of Americans to eat whatever they want, and CSPI can go to hell,” health problems be damned, I’ll hit McDonald’s for lunch every day for the next two weeks. I’ll even regret not having kids to take there for a Happy Meal. [...]

  12. beef tallow says:

    Ignore everything from the CSPI until they apologize for their promotion of transfats instead of their “down the memory-hole” act.

    Popcorn popped with pure coconut oil may actually be healthy fare if not over-consumed.

  13. Andrea Metcalf says:

    Comments McDonald’s has been working and continues to work in the best interest of people’s health. They are one of the few fast food chains that actually serves real fruits, salads and rumored soon oatmeal. Is it worth taking the toys out Happy meals? Really? One thing we forget is that kids are eating at McDonald’s not daily like at our government funded school lunches but on occasion… And I have seen kids’ school lunches and options. Maybe we should be requiring EXERCISE AND MOVEMENT…Maybe we need to spend more time getting people active ~ isn’t that’s what causing this serious health epidemmic- we drive kids to school, we drive them to practice, they sit and play video games… Let’s focus on getting them active!

  14. [...] hasn’t been a happy year for Happy Meals,” writes Paula Bernstein in “Babble.” Although Bernstein adds that she is [...]

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