Although the ban applies to all fast food meals, the biggest impact will be on McDonald's, which is the largest user of toy giveaways. The ordinance, which goes into effect December 2011, signals that the company will either need to get serious about making its Happy Meals healthier or settle into the idea that this may very well be the beginning of the end for toy giveaways. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has called Happy Meal toys a "predatory practice" that "undercuts parental authority and exploits young children's developmental immaturity." The group is preparing a lawsuit against McDonald's for unfair and deceptive marketing.
The fallout from San Francisco won't be financial -- there are just 19 McDonald's in the city. Instead, it's symbolic. The actions of the city's tiny population of 776,000 often have an outsized impact on our national consciousness and the political landscape. San Francisco was a leader in recycling, the move towards reusable grocery bags, getting rid of trans fats and menu labeling for chain restaurants.
McDonald's realized this potential ripple effect and flew several executives out to testify at City Hall against the ban. Cindy Goody, U.S. director of nutrition and Karen Wells, vp of strategy and menu, argued -- unsuccessfully -- that there is no evidence linking fast food toys to weight gain and that Happy Meals aren't even that fattening. In a San Francisco Examiner editorial last month, Wells wrote:
- At least 1/2 cup of fruit or 3/4 cup of vegetables
- Less than 600 calories
- Less than 640 mg sodium
- Less than 35% of calories from fat