Beginning of the End for Happy Meals?

Today could mark a beginning of the end for that great underminer of healthy lunches on the go: the McDonald’s Happy Meal.

At the risk of making fast food lunch a whole lot less happy, county leaders in Silicon Valley will consider passing a proposal to ban toys in high-calorie, high-sodium, high-fat kids meals.

Today, Silicon Valley. Tomorrow, the world?

Ken Yeager, a Santa Clara County supervisor, believes his proposal would pressure restaurants to offer more nutritious menu items for kids. If passed, no kids’ meal of more than 485 calories, 600 mg of sodium or high amounts of sugar and fat would be allowed to offer a toy. Yeager’s ban would preclude the traditional hamburger/fries/soda meal from including miniaturized versions of the latest Disney characters. But by those numbers, the alternative “healthier” meal, which includes apples and caramel dipping sauce, would also not make the cut.

The proposal under consideration would affect only about a dozen fast food chains under the Board of Supervisors’ jurisdiction. Unless, of course, the toy bans catch on.

The whole thing has the California Restaurant Association taking out full page ads opposing the measure and parents interviewed in the LA Times are divided.

It would be interesting to learn whether such a ban indeed affects sales or pushes the chains to offer grilled chicken sandwiches (instead of a burger or chicken nuggets) and some other fruit besides apples missing their peels.

Of course, a toy ban would not be a silver bullet in the effort to make kids healthier. But it does signal that grown-ups are in the room and finally asking for accountability. While personal responsibility is a big part of the equation for reversing the course of childhood obesity — yes, we get it, cut back on the Happy Meals — corporate responsibility, especially when it comes to communicating directly with kids in advertising and promotions, is too.

A ban might also let grandparents off the hook — they’re always getting suckered into Happy Meals. What do you think? Ban good? Ban bad?

[UPDATE: They passed the ban!]

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