San Francisco Legislative Proposal Would Restrict Restaurant Toys to 200 Calorie Food Items

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Two McDonald's Happy Meal with toy watches fashioned after the characters Donkey and Puss in Boots from the movie Shrek Forever After are pictured in Los Angeles June 22, 2010. A U.S. consumer group wants McDonald's Corp to stop using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants and has threatened to sue if the world's biggest hamburger chain does not comply within 30 days. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: FOOD CRIME LAW BUSINESS)

If you thought Seinfeld's Soup Nazi was bad, read this article about how a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (a combined city and county governmental entity) wants to restrict restaurants in terms of the meals with which toys can be given. The highlights of the plan, which was introduced on Tuesday, August 10, 2010, include:

Under the proposed legislation, restaurants in San Francisco would not be allowed to provide an "incentive item," such as toys, trading cards or admission tickets, linked to the purchase of an individual menu item or meal that includes:

-- More than 200 calories for a single item or more than 600 calories for a meal. (A typical fast food hamburger has at least 250 calories, according to McDonald's and Burger King nutritional websites.)

-- More than 480 milligrams of sodium for a single item or 640 milligrams for a meal. (A typical fast-food hamburger has 520 milligrams of sodium.)

-- More than 35 percent of its calories derived from fat, unless the fat is contained in nuts, seeds or nut butters, or from a packaged egg or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.

-- More than 10 percent of its calories derived from saturated fats, with the exception of nuts, seeds, packaged eggs or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.

-- More than 0.5 grams of trans fat.

Other requirements:

-- Meals must include at least a half-cup of fruit and three-quarters of a cup of vegetables.

-- A beverage may not have more than 35 percent of its calories fat-based or more than 10 percent of its calories sugar-based.

The main proponent of the legislation, Supervisor Eric Mar, is quoted in the SFgate.com article as saying that, "Our legislation will encourage restaurants that offer unhealthy meals marketed toward children and youth to offer healthier food options with incentive items or toys ..." But the article also states that the local restaurant industry is calling the proposal punitive, and quotes at least one parent, at a McDonald's, stressing that the decision of what kids eat is up to the parents:

"They were hungry. We got something quick and they got toys to play with," Choice, 24, said. "These are growing boys, extremely active. I think it should be up to the parents, not the city, to decide what they eat."

A drive through of blog writing about the proposal reveals a mix of emotions -- including guilt. At this Eat Drink Better post by Jeannie Moulton, commenters were asked to answer the question of whether toys should be banned from being served with unhealthy meals and offered these kinds of thoughts:

I am so guilty of occasionally giving in to the diet desires of my child, but I do support a more healthy diet more often than not. It is not the government’s job to dictate what the public should or should not consume with ANY product.

and

Ban the toys if you want … my kids would ask for Happy Meals even if they came without a toy. They actually enjoy that conglomeration of chemicals & processed food particles that McDonald's calls chicken nuggets. But as their PARENT, I make the CHOICE not to feed them that garbage except on extremely rare occasions, even though they often whine & beg. Not only that, I EXPLAIN to them WHY I don't allow them to have it. That's really the problem here -- toys may be a marketing tool to encourage children to ask their parents for a product … but ultimately it's up to the parent to say NO, not the government to make laws banning toys or even ingredients.

And Paula at Strollerderby has this perspective in her post, San Francisco Threatens to Kill Happy Meal Toys:

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. Not only is childhood obesity becoming a dire epidemic, but McDonald’s stock price is at a record high.

Erin Sherbert, writing for the SF Examiner's political blog, Under The Dome, ledes with, "Supervisor Eric Mar wants to take the happy out of McDonald’s Happy Meal." while the Burger Business blog ledes with an SNL Seth Myers "Really?" kind of hook: "This is why we’re fat? Toys? Really?" and ends with this:

But the supervisors’ approach could do the opposite of what they intend. Chains have already significantly improved their kids meals items, adding low-fat milk and fruit juice, applesauce as an alternative to fries, etc. The 200-calorie threshold is ridiculously low. And if you take away the kids’ toys, you’ve eliminated one strong incentive for parents to order from the healthier kids menu. No toy? Then Junior gets a hamburger, fries and a soda instead of Nuggets, Apple Dippers and apple juice.

The other option, of course, is to let parents decide what their children can eat. Radical.

My opinion, if anyone is asking? I've got three kids, 10, 13 and 16. The 10 and 13-year-old are big #10 fans at Wendy's -- always small, no sauce, with lemonade. (That's chicken nuggets to the rest of us.) My 16-year-old sometimes will get the #11 sweet and sour chicken, also small with lemonade. None of those even come with toys, and when we were toy-eligible, years ago, they ended up with the flotsam and jetsam most parents have to deal with. So as a parent, I say let the parents make the decisions.

Now, as a city council member in a city that has only a Subway in it and no other "fast food" entities in the city (though definitely within one to two miles of the city), I would never consider introducing something like this at a time such as now. We're facing major deficits, we haven't fixed roads all year, we have a major commercial entity just cut down literally more than 100 trees without telling us, we have residents who want to recall our mayor and some of my council colleagues. I just can't imagine that this rises to the level of importance -- and to the level of something that our parents cannot manage.

So go at it -- should government do more or less? Should it be in the business of increasing barriers to the toy-food connection? I don't know ... I just don't know. If you were a constituent in a community considering the legislation being proposed in San Francisco (which apparently is already in effect in Santa Clara), what would you want done?

More resources:

At Change.org, Susan Parsons writes, "Cities Ban Toys From Unhealthy Kids' Meals"

Francine Kiefer at the Christian Science Monitor's The Editorial Board blog, "A Supersized Attack on McDonald's Happy Meal Toys"

At Meat Trade News Daily's blog, "USA - There is nothing unhealty in burgers only the french fries side dish"

Jill Writes Like She Talks

In The Arena: Jill Miller Zimon, Pepper Pike City Council Member

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