NYC considers banning free toys with fatty meals

When San Francisco officials decided in 2011 to ban Happy Meal toys and push for healthier eating options for kids, it drew national attention and a lot of debate.

Could you legislate against the Happy Meal? Should you force parents to feed children healthier food? Should you force fast food restaurants to stop attracting kids with toys that come with their meals?

A New York City Council member on Thursday brought the argument back, with a plan to ban packaging toys with fatty foods. The "Healthy Happy Meals" bill sets standards for how much fat, sodium and calories an "incentivized meal" can contain and requires it include a serving of fruit, vegetable or whole grains.

"It is difficult enough for parents to give their children healthy food without the fast food industry spending hundreds of million dollars per year advertising to children, and nearly half of that on toys," said Council Member Ben Kallos, who introduced the bill. "If restaurants are going to incentivize children, they should incentivize them to eat healthy."

This isn't the first try to legislate eating rules in New York City. A similar attempt at a Happy Meal ban failed in New York in 2011. And, more recently, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to ban large sugary drinks was struck down last year as unconstitutional.

Attempting to dictate what people can and cannot eat or how certain foods can be marketed is clearly a difficult undertaking. Even in San Francisco, where such a law was passed, it didn't take very long for it to be functionally neutered.

Before the law -- which stopped toys from being able to be given away with kids' meals -- took effect in late 2011, McDonald's decided to offer toys with its Happy Meals to anyone who paid an extra dime. And that extra 10 cents, McDonald's said, would be given to charity.

Previously, any parent who did not want their child to have Happy Meal toys could have simple requested not to get them. Instead, they now have to ask for them and pay 10 cents. Ban? Not exactly.

McDonald's did not immediately respond to request to comment on the impact of that law or the proposal in New York.

Clearly, though, the idea of banning the popular meals packaged up with their accompanying (and typically promotional) cheap toys, has not caught on nationwide -- save a try or two in New York.

  • Mitch Lipka On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.

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