Unhappy Californians Boot the Happy Meal
The (in power) people of San Francisco have spoken. Out with the Happy Meal! Almost…
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that requires any restaurant that includes toys with a purchase to meet specific nutritional guidelines. This continues San Francisco’s distinct lead as the most legislatively progressive City in the United States. After banning plastic bags, requiring all government run offices utilize non-toxic cleaning products, and putting a standard into place that all new government construction must be LEED certified, the people in power in San Francisco continue their visionary practices.
Despite McDonald’s claims of persecution and targeting, the ordinance is applicable to all restaurants that include a toy with purchase that do not meet specific nutritional guidelines. The ordinance has been under consideration for awhile, and restaurant industry groups as well as individual companies like McDonalds have been fighting its passage into law.
Why an Ordinance on Meals with Toys?
The overweight and obesity numbers in the United States are staggering. Sadly enough, 15% of the children in the US are either overweight or obese. An atrocious and unhealthy jump since the advent of fast food. With a variety of factors playing into these numbers, it is difficult to pinpoint a true culprit. Perhaps that is because this epidemic that threatens the health of tens of millions of Americans has a large span of “causes”. Cheap food (with a high true cost to our health, environment, and human rights in developing nations), chemically-simulated food experience (read Omnivore’s Dilemma to read about how through a manipulation of the senses, chemists can make any piece of food trick your senses), and American’s distinct lack of exercise relative to other developed nations. The numbers threatening the lives of children have become such a large concern that the health care industry is has significantly increased their charges, and the health and fitness industry have significantly increased their range of products and enrollments for extreme cases of weight loss.
Now, the Ordinance that was passed actually does not “ban” anyone from selling food, it requires that they meet specific nutritional guidelines in order to provide a meal with a toy. The Ordinance goes into effect December 1st, so restauranteurs have a small bit of time (and plenty of previous notice prior to the vote) to get their new toy-included meals in nutritional order.
Direct-Marketing to Children
Direct marketing to children has been banned in many locations, and there are a few legislative actions that have been put in place to reduce this type of marketing. The first major and successful attack on direct-marketing to children came from the TRUTH campaign and others targeting cigarette companies like Philip Morris with the idea that if the companies target them, the ‘children’ or young adults have the right to target the companies right back. Although meals with toys may be marketed to a younger group, less vocal and action-oriented to fight their plastic toy that comes with their meal, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took it upon themselves to protect the children. Some individuals believe that these types of regulation also help give power back to parents and guardians as the decision-makers during a time when the market is flooded with “wants” and “new things” to tantalize even the most well-behaved child.
The Details (honestly)
As stated earlier, this was not a direct attack on McDonalds but instead on an unsustainable and unhealthy practice within ALL food establishments. By creating standards that are clear and accepted by nutritionists and doctors as acceptable for healthy meals, not just happy meals, the government has taken children’s health upon themselves.
The nutritional requiremenst are…
- 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
“This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment,” Mar said.
And it challenge it may be for some restaurants to truly adhere to these standards.
Will My Happy Meal be Banned?
This legislation was passed within the City of San Francisco. There has been little talk about other Cities, States, or the Federal government following San Francisco’s lead. That said, if McDonalds and other food establishments with toys as part of meals want to stay in that market, they will have to adapt. If the larger companies adapt, and smaller businesses can share their lessons and transitions to healthier meals, then there is little reason not to adopt the healthier standards. If the framework and advice from similar businesses is available, why not take advantage of it?
Did they go to far?
Companies like McDonalds are claiming discrimination and that the San Francisco government has gone too far. Is the regulation of the industry fair? Well, that can be a pretty subjective discussion. What is important is that it is legal, and the intent behind the regulation was not to discriminate, but to address a growing epidemic of childhood obesity that threatens the lives of our future changemakers. In fact, the issue of childhood obesity has grown into such a health threat in the United States, that First Lady Michelle Obama, and world famous Chef Jamie Oliver are making very public efforts to bring nutrition, proportion control, and education back to food for children in the US.
What do you think? Do you think the San Francisco government went too far, or that we as a nation haven’t gone far enough to address this critical health issue?
Last Happy Meal