Wednesday, January 12, 2011

San Francisco to ban McDonald's Happy Meal toys

This topic is all over news sites, but I like the discussion from the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Toys may disappear from Happy Meals and other kids' meals in San Francisco starting December 2011, unless the food carries less than 600 calories and is accompanied by fruits and vegetables and healthier drinks. The chief sponsor of the new ordinance, passed on November 9, 2010, told the San Francisco Chronicle that it was a modest policy that "holds fast-food (businesses) accountable." The city's mayor disagrees. Promising to veto the ordinance, he is quoted as saying: "Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat."

There are more than 32,000 McDonald's restaurants in more than 100 countries. Other cities across the globe may or may not follow San Francisco's lead, which makes us ask: What role does legislation have in stemming the childhood obesity epidemic across the globe?"

According to the Huffington Post, "McDonald's could, theoretically, reformulate the Happy Meal for San Francisco to allow it to be sold. Here are the ordinance's specific requirements for a packaged fast food meal targeted at children:

  • 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).
  • Fruits & Vegetables: At least half a cup of fruit or three-quarters of a cup of vegetables"

What I love is what this woman has to say about it:

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and former senior nutrition policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"I'm surprised at the mayor's comment that "parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat," because the San Francisco ordinance is not about the food. It's about the toys. Nobody is stopping parents from ordering Happy Meals for their kids. But as everyone knows, kids only want Happy Meals because of the toys. The idea that government has no role in food choice is ludicrous. The government is intimately involved in food choices through policies that make the cost of some foods—those containing subsidized corn or soybeans, for example—cheaper than others. It is not an accident that five dollars at McDonald's will buy you five hamburgers or only one salad. It is not an accident that the indexed price of fruits and vegetables has increased by 40% since the early 1980s, whereas the indexed price of sodas has decreased by 30%. Right now, agricultural policies support our present industrialized food system and strongly discourage innovation and consumption of relatively unprocessed foods. Agricultural policies are the results of political decisions that can be changed by political will. If we want agricultural policies aligned with health policies—and I certainly do—we need to exercise our democratic rights as citizens and push for changes that are healthier for people and the planet. Yes, individuals are the ultimate arbiters of food choice. But our present food system makes unhealthful eating the default. We need to be working for government policies that make healthy eating the default. The San Francisco ordinance is a small step in that direction."

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