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San Francisco Toys with Kids-Meal Premium Ban

Filed under Advertising, Marketing, Menu

A "Shrek the Third" kids-meal toy from McDonald's

[Update: The Board passed the ordinanace by an 8-3 vote. Mayor Gavin Newsom vowed to veto it. Details here.]

This is why we’re fat? Toys? Really? 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week proposed a new law that would allow children to eat anything they want…but deny them a toy “incentive” if they eat food the supervisors don’t like. A hamburger, low-fat milk and small fries at McDonald’s? No toy for you!

What do the supervisors define as healthy? No more than 200 calories or 480 milligrams of sodium are allowed per item; with 600 calories tops for a whole kids meal. So McDonald’s hamburger is out (250 calories), as are small fries (230 calories). The 4-piece Chicken McNuggets just squeak through at 190 calories and 400 mg of sodium. Apple Dippers with Low-Cal Caramel Sauce? Well, OK. They’re 100 calories, 35 mg. sodium.

There are other rules under the San Francisco plan: kids-meal items can have no more than 35% of their calories derived from fat (unless it’s from nuts, seeds or nut butters, from packaged egg, or packaged low-fat cheese). Oh, and no more than 10% of calories can from saturated fats (again excepting, nuts, seeds, packaged eggs and low-fat cheese). It can’t have more than .5 grams of trans fat.

There’s more. Kids meals must have at least one-half cup of fruit and three-quarters cup of vegetables (do the supervisors’ kids get that with every meal at home?). And no more than 35% of a beverage’s calories can be derived from fat; no more than 10% of calories from sugar.

Got that? If so, you get a toy. But kids won’t. There’s virtually nothing on the Carl’s Jr. or Hardee’s children’s menus that passes muster. Burger King’s Kraft Macaroni and Cheese makes it through (just 160 calories), as do its BK Fresh Apple Fries. But pretty much everything else is out of bounds, and kids are out of luck. No toy! 

Supervisor Eric Mar told the San Francisco Chronicle that the proposed law “will encourage restaurants that offer unhealthy meals marketed toward children and youth to offer healthier food options with incentive items or toys.” He did not say what he planned to order today that has fewer than 200 calories.

But the supervisors’ approach could do the opposite of what they intend. Chains have already significantly improved their kids meals items, adding low-fat milk and fruit juice, applesauce as an alternative to fries, etc. The 200-calorie threshold is ridiculously low. And if you take away the kids’ toys, you’ve eliminated one strong incentive for parents to order from the healthier kids menu. No toy? Then Junior gets a hamburger, fries and a soda instead of Nuggets, Apple Dippers and apple juice.

The other option, of course, is to let parents decide what their children can eat. Radical.

12 Responses to San Francisco Toys with Kids-Meal Premium Ban

  1. nobody in particular

    Would love to hear a PR rep for one of the national chains to tell the SF Board of Stupidvisors to get f****ed. We are going to sell what we sell because it is what our clientele demands and we are in the business of meeting our client’s demands, not the demands of some finger in the breeze politician.

  2. Account Planner for Ad Agency

    Kudos to San Francisco for taking a step into the right direction to end the ridiculous obesity and diabetes rates (and consequently rising health care cost) in this country. Unfortunately, many parents nowadays are unaware of the bad things they put into their own and their kids’ bodies. Let’s stop feeding them chunk, just because it’s cheap to produce. There are many ways to eat healthier and even fast food restaurants can figure out a way. No sympathy for the fast food giants here. I think they have enough money to figure it out.

    Clearly this article was written by someone employed by/invested in the fast food industry. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I believe you’re missing the bigger picture here.

  3. admin

    “Clearly” you’re wrong. I’ve never been employed in the fast-food industry and have always been a reporter. The “big picture” is that this law could dissuade people from eating more healthfully. Meanwhile, feel free to oversee your daily nutrition. I’ll monitor my family’s without your help.
    But I continue to believe that people’s eating habits can be changed more easily with incentives than through silly punishments.

  4. admin

    By the way, the kids meal offered at the restaurant chain your agency works for has more than 1,000 calories. Surely it has enough money to figure out something better, eh?

  5. maybe they should change the name of the meal do you think that would make those people happy in SF

    no more kids menu or happy meal. call it something else so maybe its just Semantics.

  6. Account Planner at Ad Agency

    I’m not sure how this law would dissuade people from eating healthy. Seems like the incentive is kids only getting a toy for healthy choices.
    And I do not appreciate your comment about our client. My opinion in no way reflects that of my agency or our clients. It is my opinion alone. I find your comment unprofessional.

  7. Will Kaye

    Another couple things to consider:

    1) You don’t have to buy the Happy Meal to get the toy. Fast food restaurants will let you buy the toys separately if you want the toy, not the food. So you could easily have a situation where the parents buy the non-toy version of the kids meal and then immediately purchase the toy, which puts more money in McD’s pockets. I am not arguing whether that is inherently good or bad, just pointing it out.

    2) This would be a mess if you have more than one child and one of them happens to like nuggets and one of them likes hamburgers. Have fun explaining to your kids why one of them gets a toy and one of them gets nothing.

    3) On a 1000-2000 recommended DV for kids (depending on age), is a difference of 60 calories (250 hamburger vs 190 nuggets) really enough of a difference to warrant measures like this?

  8. admin

    OK. Obesity is a scourge. I just think banning toys is passive-aggressive and ineffective. If you really want to mandate nutrition standards, do it. For adults and kids. And include supermarkets (no “incentive” coupons for Cheetos allowed in SF). What SF proposes doesn’t change eating habits or improve nutrition. The supervisors are just bullying to look like they’re doing something.

  9. Tina

    I think that it is really up to the parents to decide what their kids should be eating. Just because there is a toy that the child wants it is within the parent’s authority to limit the number if Happy Meals a child can eat. If you give in every time your child begs for the meal, then yes, it is unhealthy and your child will expect you to give in every time…for the meal and everything else they beg for! The goal shoul be a) teach to child about moderation and b) teach the child that they can’t always have everything they want! We don’t need consumers groups and politicians to do this for us! And yes I have a three year old who asks for a Happy Meal almost every night…and doesn’t get it!

  10. John B.

    Unfortunately not all the parents are as attentive to what their kids eat. I think it is wonderful what San Francisco is doing. Billions in marketing studies spent by fast food chains clearly put parents at a disadvantage when trying to make choices. Good job!

  11. admin

    You really need the government to help you say “Sorry, no” to your child? Enjoy 1984.

  12. Johnymac

    San Fran killed Santa