San Francisco will be the first major city in the United States to restrict restaurants from providing toys with meals that contain high levels of calories, sugar and fat. Targeting promotions like McDonald’s Happy Meals, the measure was passed by the board of supervisors to fight obesity and “food injustice” amongst California’s youth. The ordinance would also require restaurants to offer fruits and vegetables with all childrens’ meals that come with toys.
“We’re part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the measure. “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.”
McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said in a statement following the November 2 vote, “We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision. It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for.”
Lieutenant Governor-elect and current San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has opposed the ordinance, but because the measure was passed by a veto-proof eight votes it would be up to a supervisor to change their mind on an override vote. The ordinance stipulates that meals which contain fewer than 600 calories and less than 35 percent of their calories from fat, including a beverage, are allowed to include a toy. The changes aren’t scheduled to take effect until December 2011.
Though the issue has been elevated to epic proportions by the mainstream media, with opponents harmonizing on the ordinance’s seemingly unnecessary and authoritarian nature, city officials want it to be known that they are sending a clear message to the junk food industry: stop unethical marketing.
“I do believe the industry is going to take note of this. I don’t care how much they say, ‘It’s San Francisco, they’re wacked out there.’ ,” said supervisor Bevan Dufty.
Proud maintains that the ordinance is out of touch with mainstream sentiment.
“Public opinion continues to be overwhelmingly against this misguided legislation,” Proud said. “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.”
Daniel Conway, spokesman for the California Restaurant Association isn’t a fan of the new regulation, saying the industry in the city (and throughout Santa Clara County where a similar ban is already in effect) might respond by eliminating children’s meals altogether. Failing that, they might keep toys with their child meals but charge separately for them.
For advocates, such as Mar, the ordinance would force fast-food giants and other eateries to provide healthier food to children, perhaps born into the unhealthiest generation in modern history. Mar told the LA Times that the ban:
“was crucial to the fight against childhood obesity and the illnesses that go along with it, including diabetes and the risk of heart problems and stroke. The cost of fighting those diseases, he said, will be in the billions.”