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San Francisco Threatens to Kill Happy Meal Toys

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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