Fast-Food Toy Ban Gets OK in San Francisco

McDonald's happy meal with toy
AP Graphics
An effort in San Francisco to make fast-food meals marketed to children healthier passed a key vote Monday.

A committee of the Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval to a law that would prohibit fast-food restaurants from packaging toys with children's meals, unless those meals also include fruits and vegetables and limit calories, fat, sugar and salt.

A committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 Monday to pass the proposed ordinance on to the full board, where's it's expected to be considered Oct. 19.

Under Supervisor Eric Mar's proposal, McDonald's and other restaurants could only include toys in meals that have a half-cup each of fruit and vegetables and limited amounts of sugar, sodium and fat.

At Monday's Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting, Mar called his measure "a modest step forward" to address "an obesity epidemic in San Francisco and throughout this country," CBS Station KPIX reports.

According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity among American youth has increased dramatically between 1976-80 and 2007-08, with 16.9 percent of Americans ages 2-19 year classified as obese. In 2008 10.4% of preschoolers (ages 2-5) were obese; among 6-11 year old, almost one in five (19.6%) were obese.

Santa Clara County supervisors adopted a similar law in April.

Even if the measure passes the Board, it faces a possible veto from Mayor Gavin Newsom.

A spokesman for the mayor told KPIX that Newsom is concerned about "dictating how a private restaurant wants to market its food, some of which includes healthy choices already."

The debate has played out as a matter of personal and parental responsibility versus corporate accountability and children's health.

Fast food industry representatives have assailed the measure, and claim they have already taken steps toward making their meals healthier.

Scott Rodrick, who owns 10 McDonald's franchises in San Francisco, told KCBS correspondent Barbara Taylor that the legislation would make turning a profit even harder.

"The city hall folks should be thinking about ways to help businesses become more prosperous, not ways to erode an already tentative bottom line," he said.

On the other side, corporate watchdogs, parents and physicians have said the fast food industry's massive marketing budgets can overpower the efforts of parents and teachers to improve nutrition.

Mar's proposal would make it illegal to package an incentive item like a toy in a children's meal if the meal:

•   Exceeded 600 calories;
•   Exceeded 640 mg. of sodium;
•   Derived more than 35% of its calories from fat, or more thanm 10% from saturated fat;
•   Contained more than 0.5% trans fat; or
•   Contained More than 10% of calories from added sweeteners;

The meals must also contain at minimum a half-cup of fruit, and (if not a breakfast meal) a half-cup of vegetables. Breads (such as a hamburger bun) must be at least 50% whole wheat.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocate group, the 24 Happy Meal combinations featured on McDonald's website earlier this year - many of which are packaged with toys and movie tie-ins - all exceed 430 calories (which is one-third of the recommended daily intake for 4- to 8-year-olds of 1,300 calories).

According to CSPI, a Happy Meal of a cheeseburger, French fries and Sprite has half-a-day's calories (640 grams) and saturated fat (7 grams), about 940 mg of sodium, and about two days' worth of sugar (35 grams).