Home Health News Cleaning Up The Happy Meal: Do Toys Advertise Unhealthy Foods To Kids?

Cleaning Up The Happy Meal: Do Toys Advertise Unhealthy Foods To Kids?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Y’know, I don’t know if San Francisco and New York City are competing for some kind of food regulation award, but dang:

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the California city’s Board of Supervisors voted 8 to 3 to stop restaurants from offering free toys with any meals containing more than 600 calories. Many Happy Meals fall within that range, given that a cheeseburger comes in at 300 calories, a hamburger at 250 calories and a kid-size fry at 230. That majority vote is veto proof.

Under the new law, fast-food kids meals also must contain fruits, vegetables and beverages without excessive fat or sugar to qualify for toy inclusion.

A McDonald’s spokesperson, however, says the law will take the joy out of the Happy Meal.

The measure starts next December. So, as of Dec. 20, 2011, San Francisco restaurants will no longer be able to offer free toys with meals containing higher levels of calories, sugar and fat.

CNN reports that the proposed ordinance is part of a “food justice movement.” To be sure, McDonald’s kids lunch isn’t the only target here. About 50 fast-food restaurants in the San Francisco area use giveaway toys, according to CNN.

In the CNN report, officials said they hope their measure would encourage similar standards across the country. The San Francisco proposal was modeled after a similar law for unincorporated Santa Clara County, also in California. [source]

The aforementioned CNN article says the following:

San Francisco city officials are readying to ban most of McDonald’s Happy Meals in current form because they offer toys to entice kids to buy meals not meeting nutritional criteria.

Under a proposal given preliminary approval this week, McDonald’s and other restaurants would have until December 2011 to improve their meals’ nutrition with fruits and vegetables — if the chains want to keep offering Captain America figurines or toys tied with latest films.

The proposed ordinance is part of a “food justice movement” and is designed to address how about 50 of the city’s restaurants use giveaway toys to sell fast food whose nutritional content is being challenged by the city.

Officials said they hope their measure, the first of its kind for a large city, would encourage similar standards across the country. The San Francisco proposal was modeled after a similar law for unincorporated Santa Clara County, California,

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who initiated the proposal, said the ordinance would be “a tremendous victory” in fighting childhood obesity. His fifth-grade daughter is in the 6-to-11 age group in which rates of obesity have quadrupled the past 30 years — coinciding with the life span of the Happy Meal, he said.

“I do believe that toys and other incentives attached to foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories are a major reason for the alarming rise for childhood obesity in this country,” Mar said. “This is a very modest ordinance that is an incentive for the industry to take responsibility for healthier choices for children and parents.”

McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said the company was “extremely disappointed with the decision.”

“It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for. Public opinion continues to be overwhelmingly against this misguided legislation,” Proud said in a statement. “Parents tell us it’s their right and responsibility — not the government’s – to make their own decisions and to choose what’s right for their children.

“We are extremely proud of our Happy Meals which give our youngest guests wholesome food and toys of the highest quality. Getting a toy with a kid’s meal is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald’s,” Proud said. [source]

There’s a documentary out – I can’t remember exactly what its name is, and I’ll edit this once I do remember – my bad, it’s titled “Killer at Large” – that discussed the fight that kids have with their parents over food.

I don’t know where I fall with this. I know that my daughter and I don’t fight over happy meals – she asks for them because they’re bright, colorful and appear to be fun (well, the commercials show floating kids and happy music and oooh! stars!!) but because she knows Mommom is good for smacking down foolishness, she rarely expects to actually get them. There’s no “fight.” I also recognize that I’m the parent of a toddler. It’s much easier to tell a toddler “No, you cannot have the death burger and the mystery nuggets.” than it is to tell a pre-teen who’d be quick to shout at you “I HATE YOU! YOU NEVER LET ME BE AN ADULT AND GET THE NUGGETS! SOMETIMES I WANT THE TOY TOO!”

I also wonder about the house that’s converting to clean eating, and trying to educate kids about why they can’t have these bright, colorful, fun-looking foods. After all, things that look fun couldn’t possibly be harmful, right? In fact, in the documentary, I specifically remember the quote a psychologist gave:

“It’s my job to tell parents that some battles aren’t worth fighting… so if a parent has to choose between the chicken mcnugget argument and sexually precocious teenager argument… I’m supposed to tell them to give the kid the mcnuggets?”

San Francisco is seeking to intervene in that argument. They’re not quite banning the Happy Meal, so to speak, but they’re drastically changing the way the product can be marketed… that is, unless the head honchos change the make-up of the Happy Meal.

….to stop restaurants from offering free toys with any meals containing more than 600 calories. [..]

Under the new law, fast-food kids meals also must contain fruits, vegetables and beverages without excessive fat or sugar to qualify for toy inclusion.

Make no mistake, the law has incredible intentions: companies no longer have the right to pull out the stops in advertising harmful products to children. However, we’ve got to be real: how many times have we seen the government get it wrong in defining “harmful?” Shoot, how many times have we seen them screw up “healthy?” How many times have we seen the government confuse “slimming” with “healthy?”

I even have an example. Check out the requirements the Happy Meal would have to abide by in order to be given the green light:

  • Calories: Less than 600
  • Sodium: Less than 640 milligram.
  • Fat: Less than 35 percent of calories from fat; Less than 10 percent from saturated fat (with exception for nuts, seeds, eggs or low-fat cheese). [source]

There’s that “low-fat” again. Good grief.

I’ve got more questions, but I want to know what y’all think. Would you like to see limitations on who or what can be advertised to kids with toys? Do you think toys unfairly advertise unhealthy foods to children?

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14 comments

Darlicia November 8, 2010 - 11:20 AM

I really have issues with this. First, the happy meal does offer apples (I pass on the caramel) instead of fries, and milk instead of soda. What do they want them to do? As far as I’m concerned, most of the food is crap because of all the sugar and additives! Are they prepared to get rid of the condiments, juices, high sugar yogurt? How does adding the toy further entice them and cause more obesity? If my kids just want the toy, they will waste the food. If they got something without a toy, like an extra value meal, the will still eat the food that contributes to obesity.

As usual, folks are barking up the wrong tree…a child can’t get his own happy meal! Parents are going to educate themselves and learn how to provide better nutrition for their kids. But how can they do that when the government keeps lying about the real affects of hfcs? Or the dangers of a high sugar/refined carb diet? Or the potential side effects of processed foods period?

Instead of banning toys, SF would be better served byning ban boxed mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, as well as fast food all together if they are really interested in our children’s health and obesity crisis. After that, they can find a way to subsidize the fruit and vegetable farmers so we can buy more healthy, fresh foods instead of allowing the corn farmers to continue making hfcs for pennies on the dollar! I’m just saying!

Erika November 9, 2010 - 11:50 AM

I have issues with this, too… I just want to think about the larger scheme of things. I feel like the government gets it wrong too often to be imposing laws upon us… and even though I’m a big “food rules” person, I have no interest in policing other people and forcing them to abide by my rules. Needless to say, I also believe in natural selection (especially when, in the face of enlightenment, you make an “educated decision” to behave differently.)

How about, instead of banning anything, they work to increase awareness and exposure to healthier options? I’d rather them do less banning and more work trying to improve and increase awareness/exposure/affordability. WAY better.

Savannah November 8, 2010 - 12:05 PM

::Applauding Darlicia::

Thembi November 8, 2010 - 1:54 PM

Thanks for this. I grew up the only overweight kid in my family and in seeking to understand why I’m going to ask my mother if I fought with her over food.

On a slightly different topic, is Los Angeles the only city that offers “Mini Meals” at McDonald’s? I don’t remember having seen these before moving here a few months ago – theyre like a Happy Meal for grown ups without the toy, just a cheeseburger and fries and a drink.

Erika November 9, 2010 - 11:52 AM

I feel like I remember the “mini meal,” but I’ve only ever really eaten McDs in the midwest.

Interesting… I wonder – you wouldn’t happen to be the youngest (or, at the very least, NOT the oldest), would you?

Darlicia November 8, 2010 - 2:10 PM

Thembi, on the occasion I eat McDonalds, I get the MightyKids meal, a doublecheese burger with small fries, and unsweetened tea. Not great, but I think the beef is better than the chicken (personally), and it limits the fries. I think the mini meal is great as it gives you a more reasonable serving size. Definitely not in the midwest. But we are always the last to see the new trends! lol

Eunice November 9, 2010 - 12:58 AM

My favorite quote from this post: “but because she knows Mommom is good for smacking down foolishness, she rarely expects to actually get them.”

I hope to smack down foolishness when I’m a mama too!

Erika November 9, 2010 - 11:53 AM

Girl, you HAVE to – all the toy commercials make me want to quit life, sometimes. LOLOL I refuse to go broke just to entertain a fickle-minded toddler! NEVER! LOL!

Darlicia November 9, 2010 - 12:00 PM

Point well taken, Erika. I’m definitely against more control/regulation (but that’s a whole different subject… giggle), but I was just trying to make a point at the misguided intent….

Erika November 9, 2010 - 12:08 PM

I hear you, mama. I realize the “passion” may make me sound argumentative, but it’s all love. 🙂

We may have to have that regulation vs education conversation here someday… I just have to mentally prepare myself for being called a Republican, LOL.

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Lawanda July 31, 2012 - 7:01 AM

I think there shouldn’t be any toys etc included with unhealthy meals. Inf fact I would say that toys should be given as incentive to eat healthy meals like salads etc.
Maybe the fast food stores can try this to get everyone to eat healthier and they will make money if done correctly.

tania August 30, 2012 - 11:11 AM

If the government is taking things into it’s own hands it’s cos statistics clearly show parents who claim Its their responsability and right are being irresponsible and raising fat children.
I am glad the government still has the courage to stand up to massive corporations !

Tessa January 4, 2013 - 12:05 AM

Tania: Are you saying you dont mind the government trying to tell you how to raise kids you have/will have in the future?

I am bothered by the fact that the government is trying to force people to buy what they want. I doubt adding a toy will get a kid to eat a salad. lol I think its great that they are adding healthy options. But the reality is that most of those packets of apple end up in the garbadge and parents just get a side order of fries. its a waste of money.

I think time should be spend educating parents on healthy eating habits for kids. And not focusing on what toy Mcdonalds has in their happy meal. Honestly, i dont see Mcd’s as the sole cause of obesity. I see nothing wrong with occasionally taking your kids there. So long as it doesnt become a habit.

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