SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - It's a happy moment for people who see the
Happy Meal as anything but.
San Francisco has become the first major American city to
prohibit fast-food restaurants from including toys with children's
meals that do not meet nutritional guidelines.
The city's Board of Supervisors gave the measure final approval
Tuesday on an 8-3 vote. That's enough votes to survive a planned
veto by Mayor Gavin Newsom.
The ordinance, which would go into effect in December of next
year, prohibits toy giveaways in fast-food children's meals that
have more than 640 milligrams of sodium, 600 calories or 35 percent
of their calories from fat. The law also would limit saturated fats
and trans fats and require fruits or vegetables to be served with
each meal with a toy.
"Our effort is really to work with the restaurants and the
fast-food industry to create healthier choices," said Supervisor
Eric Mar, the measure's chief sponsor. "What our kids are eating
is making them sick, and a lot of it is fast food."
The legislation is a big victory for activists and public health
advocates who have charged food marketers with being complicit in
the country's growing childhood obesity rates. They hope other
cities and counties nationwide will follow their lead.
"This will be a sign to the fast-food industry that it's time
to phase out its predatory marketing to children at large," said
Deborah Lapidus, a senior organizer with Boston-based Corporate
Accountability International, a watchdog group that supported the
Supervisors and activists who support the measure say they hope
obesity-curbing efforts like the one approved Tuesday will
eventually spread to other cities, states and the country. A
similar ordinance has already been approved in California's Santa
Clara County, where it affected about a dozen restaurants.
Newsom, meanwhile, said he plans to veto the ordinance, which he
called an "unwise and unprecedented governmental intrusion into
parental responsibilities and private choices."
The mayor issued a statement after Tuesday's vote saying the
city must continue to combat childhood obesity but the ordinance
takes the wrong approach.
"Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children
eat, especially when it comes to spending their own money," Newsom
The industry, which favors self-regulation, says there is no
evidence that San Francisco's law will halt the expanse of
children's waistlines and the diseases associated with obesity,
such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
McDonald's and Burger King Corp. are among 17 major food and
beverage marketers who have signed on to the Children's Food and
Beverage Advertising Initiative, a self-regulation effort run by
the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
McDonald's says its meals advertised to children meet government
nutritional standards, limiting total calories to 600 per meal and
capping fats and sugars. The company also agreed to curtail
advertising in schools and promote healthy lifestyles in all
marketing efforts directed at children.
"McDonald's remains committed to responsible marketing
practices, including advertising and promotional campaigns for our
youngest customers," McDonald's senior vice president for
marketing, Neil Golden, said in a statement to The Associated
McDonald's sent several senior executives and others to San
Francisco to oppose the measure in person.
As it was being drafted, amended and discussed over several
months, Corporate Accountability ran a local newspaper
advertisement signed by physicians, community activists and small
restaurants that called on Board of Supervisors swing voter Bevan
Dufty to support the measure.
Dufty eventually did so, saying San Francisco should not wait
for the federal government to act and should serve as an example to
"I don't care how much they say, 'It's San Francisco, they're
whacked out there, it doesn't matter,' the reality is they're
taking notice," Dufty said.
Fast-food restaurants spent $161 million advertising to children
under 12 and an estimated $360 million on toys distributed with
their meals in 2006, according to a 2008 Federal Trade Commission
Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of Yale University's Rudd
Center for Food Policy & Obesity, said fast-food advertising aimed
at children has increased since self-regulation efforts began.
"They're only really promoting it halfheartedly," said
Schwartz of healthier food options. San Francisco's law "is making
the restaurants practice what they preach."
The lure of such items is all too familiar to parents like
Carmen Sanchez, who was at a San Francisco McDonald's on a recent
evening and said she sometimes hears children beg for Happy Meals.
"If the babies don't get what they want, then they won't stop
crying," Sanchez said.
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