New York City Council Considers Banning Happy Meal Toys

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Looks like San Francisco’s city officials, who voted in November to ban toys from most McDonald’s Happy Meals, have inspired legislators in New York City too.

New York City Council member Leroy G. Comrie Jr. of Queens is leading the charge to ban kid-friendly toys from any fast-food meal that doesn’t meet certain nutritional standards, arguing that the plastic playthings serve to reward children for making poor food choices and undermine parents’ attempts to steer kids toward healthful options. (More on Health-Washing: Is ‘Healthy’ Fast Food for Real?)

“I think it’s important to find a way to make a healthy lifestyle palatable and exciting,” Comrie told the New York Times‘ City Room blog, acknowledging that he was motivated to write the bill out of guilt for “grabbing Happy Meals” for his own kids.

City Room reports:

Mr. Comrie’s bill, which he is to introduce in the City Council on Wednesday, would restrict toys to meals that contain fewer than 500 calories and 600 milligrams of sodium, and in which less than 35 percent of the calories come from fat (making exceptions for nuts, seeds, peanut butter or other nut-based butters). In addition, the meal would have to contain a half a cup of fruit or vegetables or one serving of whole-grain products.

The bill is similar to, but stricter than the one passed in San Francisco, which will take effect on Dec. 1.

Several McDonald’s Happy Meal options (download a PDF of nutritional info here) currently meet Comrie’s proposed criteria, including the Chicken McNuggets meal with four nuggets, Apple Dippers and low-fat milk; that meal contains 390 calories, 15 g of fat (35% of total calories) and 570 mg of sodium. The same meal with a hamburger contains 450 calories and 12 g of fat (24% of total calories), but is disqualified by its 680 mg sodium content. (More on Are Hot Dogs Better For You Than Roasted Chicken?)

These are among the best-case scenario meals. A Happy Meal with a cheeseburger, small French fries and low-fat chocolate milk has 700 calories, 27 g of fat (35% of total calories) and 1,060 mg of sodium. McDonald’s also offers Mighty Kids Meals (download the nutritional info here), which package toys with bigger portions — six McNuggets rather than four, and a double cheeseburger instead of a single.

Predictably, McDonald’s condemned the proposed measure. An executive for the company’s New York region said: “Taking away toys from kids’ meals won’t solve childhood obesity.”

That may be true, but any measure that incentivizes food makers to offer healthier options for consumers can only help.

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