Off the Menu: Toys and Fast Food

May 7th, 2010 by Kathy McManus

A California law bans giving away trinkets with high-fat meals.

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The Responsibility Project

“A sad day for Happy Meals” is how The LA Times described a new ordinance in California’s Silicon Valley, which outlaws giving away free toys with high sugar, salt, and fat meals aimed at children. The ban will take effect in 90 days if the fast-food industry fails to “come up with a voluntary program for improving the nutritional value of children’s meals,” reports Sharon Bernstein.

Believed to be the first of its kind in the country, the ordinance “prevents restaurants from preying on children’s love of toys,” says its sponsor, Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, and “breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes.” The Mommy Files blog at the San Francisco Chronicle reports that “In the case of McDonald’s, the limits would include all of the chain’s Happy Meals—even those that include apple sticks instead of French fries.”

Proponents of the new restrictions include public health administrators, doctors, and some parents, the Times reports. “Opposed were fast-food franchisees, other parents, and fans of fast-food toys who said the promotions are often used to provide Christmas presents for poor children.” Critics say the ban negates parental responsibility, replacing it with government meddling. “If you can’t control a 3-year-old child for a toy,” said Supervisor Donald Gage, who voted against the measure, “God save you when they get to be teenagers.”