No Vegetable, No Toy: San Francisco Mimics Parents Everywhere

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While the rest of San Francisco was preoccupied with the just-ended election campaign, the city’s Board of Supervisors agreed more quietly on a measure intended to help curb childhood obesity: banning the toy giveaways that are so often a part of fast-food fare like Happy Meals. (More on Do Parents Discriminate Against Their Own Chubby Children?)

Under the legislation, a packaged fast-food meal aimed at children would have to meet guidelines for sodium, fat and calorie content — and contain at least a half-cup of fruit or three-quarters cup of vegetables. Only if it does that, could it — or its intended consumers — qualify for a toy.

The criteria are very specific: any meal over 600 calories total would be disqualified, as would a meal with more than 640 mg of sodium or more than 35% of its calories coming from fat (with the exception of egg, nut or low-fat cheese sources).

“We’re part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice,” the bill’s main sponsor, Supervisor Eric Mar, told the Los Angeles Times. “From San Francisco to New York City, the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country is making our kids sick, particularly kids from low-income neighborhoods, at an alarming rate. It’s a survival issue and a day-to-day issue.” (More on 5 Ways to Get Oatmeal in Your Diet, Deliciously)

Not everyone is a fan of the idea. Mayor Gavin Newsom vowed to veto the measure on economic grounds, but the 8-to-3 vote in favor makes it veto-proof. McDonald’s franchise owners worry that families will simply drive outside of city limits to get their Happy Meal fix, rather than opt for the healthier option closer to home. But the San Francisco Chronicle reported that this is not the first measure of its kind and that many parents may in fact be eager to choose a healthier option, but can’t compete with an action figure:

Mar, who had the backing of the city’s public health officials, modeled his proposal after a first-in-the-nation law in Santa Clara County adopted earlier this year that only applies to a handful of restaurants in the county’s unincorporated areas. San Francisco’s restrictions would affect dozens of fast-food establishments.

[Supervisor Bevan] Dufty, the swing vote Mar needed to assure a veto-proof majority, said the powerful lure of toys that come with kids meals — and the marketing campaigns that accompany them — puts parents who may want to steer their children toward healthier food choices at fast-food restaurants at a distinct disadvantage.

The board is scheduled to take a final vote next week. If passed, the measure will take effect in December 2011.

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