McDonald's steamed over proposed ban of toys in Happy Meals

Fast food giant McDonald's isn't happy over a proposal in San Francisco that would ban toys from Happy Meals and other kids' food unless the meals met certain nutritional standards.

Under San Francisco's proposal, toys would be banned if the single food item or meal is high in calories, salt and fat. Kids' meals also would have to include at least a half-cup of fruit and three-quarters of a cup of vegetables. McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Jack in the Box and other fast food chains routinely market toys in their kids' meals.

McDonald's Vice President of Nutrition and Menu Strategy Karen Wells said in a statement sent to Consumer Ally that the fast food giant wants "to work with city officials to identify a solution to the very important topic of childhood obesity. That said, we completely disagree with the proposed toy ban in San Francisco, in its current form. It just doesn't make sense."

San Francisco's proposal points to studies that say that 15% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 in the Bay area are considered overweight or obese, with another 8% of children under 12 deemed overweight. Another study cited by the proposal showed 57% of Bay area parents said their children eat out at a restaurant at least once a week.

"Restaurant foods are generally higher in those nutrients for which over-consumption is a problem, such as fat and saturated fat, and lower in nutrients required for good health, such as calcium and fiber," according to San Francisco's proposed law. "Research analyzing children's meals at major restaurant chains found that many exceed the recommended caloric limits for children. And almost every high-calorie meal in the study came with toys."

Under the proposal, toys would be banned:
  • If the meal had more than 600 calories. There's a 200-calorie limit for a single food item.
  • If the meal has more than 640 milligrams of salt or the single item had more than 480 milligrams.
  • If more than 35% of its total calories came from fat. Egg, low-fat or reduced-fat cheese, nuts and peanut butter are exceptions. Saturated fat could only comprise 10% of the total calories and trans fat only 0.5 grams.
San Francisco isn't the first to take aim at Happy Meal toys and other children's meals. California's Santa Clara County adopted a law in April banning toys from any kids' meal that had more than 485 calories, more than 600 mg of salt or high levels of sugar or fat.

Wells said McDonald's has been responsive and has changed its menu to include healthier food like sliced apples, low-fat milk and juice for parents to choose in their child's Happy Meal.

"We're committed to children's well-being, and we'll continue to learn and take action for our customers that is guided by science and facts," the statement said. "The proposal does not reflect what consumers want, nor is it something they asked for. 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.Banning a toy is not the way to fight obesity or improve children's
well-being. Solutions will come only from education and awareness based on science and fact."

McDonald's has also come under fire from the health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which served the fast food chain with an intent to sue over the its use of toys to market fast food to children.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will be discussing the proposal at a hearing today. The Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting will be broadcast live and the video archived for viewing afterward.
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