The San Fran Happy Meal Ban

San Francisco’s proposed Happy Meal toy prohibition had been up in the air for a couple weeks. To his eternal credit, SFO Mayor (and now Lieutenant Governor-Elect) Gavin Newsom promised to veto the childish idea. To overcome it, the city’s Board of Supervisors would need an 8-3 majority. That meant it all came down to Supervisor Bevan Dufty, a Happy Meal moderate and the crucial eighth vote.

Yesterday, Dufty made up his mind to vote “Yes.”

Dufty, the swing vote [Supervisor and unbearable food hysteric Eric] Mar needed to assure a veto-proof majority, said the powerful lure of toys that come with kids meals – and the marketing campaigns that accompany them – puts parents who may want to steer their children toward healthier food choices at fast-food restaurants at a distinct disadvantage …

"I want to encourage these major stakeholders to act now. I think we can take a bold move here and say, you know what, you really need to think about the fact that you can market whole wheat products, you can market carrots," Dufty said.

You can almost hear CSPI’s Michael Jacobson breathing heavy and murmuring in excitement. Marketing carrots to children is a fine idea and one with a proven record of success in school cafeterias. But there’s nothing wrong with the occasional fast food dinner. And that much has always been up to parental discretion: It’s not very often you see a child hop in the car, drive to McDonald’s, and charge a Happy Meal to his own credit card. Yet San Francisco seems to think parents are no match for the “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle.

The new law imposes several nutritional requirements in order for meals to include toys. The two most important: The combined meal must contain fewer than 600 calories and 640 milligrams of sodium. This excludes the cheeseburger Happy Meal entirely. The hamburger Happy Meal becomes contraband unless apple slices are substituted for fries. Somehow the Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal stays legal, as long as milk isn’t part of lunch.

The Mayo Clinic recommends between 1,400 to 2,000 calories and 1,200 mg of sodium per day for boys ages 4-8. The dreaded cheeseburger Happy Meal with fries and a small Sprite was banned because it contains 640 calories and 940 milligrams of sodium. Yet that's nowhere near enough, on its own, to turn any child into Violet Beauregard.

If kids are clamoring for apple slices—or if parents want to insist on them—guess what? They're already on the menu. But at dinnertime, parents (not the San Francisco government) should have the final say. 

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