California county bans toys in fattening kids’ meals
Some children’s fast food meals in Santa Clara County, Calif., are going to be a little less happy from now on. On April 27, the county’s board of supervisors approved an ordinance that aims to combat childhood obesity by preventing restaurants from using toys and other incentives to lure kids to meals that are high in fat, sugar and calories.
Under the ordinance, restaurants cannot use toys as rewards for buying foods that have excessive calories (more than 120 for a beverage, 200 for a single food item or 485 for a meal), excessive sodium (480 mg for a single food item or 600 mg for a meal), excessive fat (more than 35 percent of total calories from fat), or excessive sugar (more than 10 percent of calories from added sweeteners). It permits restaurants to offer toys and other incentive items long as it is with food that meets national nutritional criteria for children.
Restaurants encourage children to choose specific menu items by linking them with free toys and other incentive items, county officials say, and research shows that parents frequently make purchases based on requests made by children. In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission estimated that restaurants sold 1.2 billion meals accompanied by toys to children under 12. “This ordinance levels the playing field,” said Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager, who proposed the ordinance. “It helps parents make the choices they want for their children without toys and other freebies luring them toward food that fails to meet basic nutritional standards.”
Using data from a 2008 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest on the nutritional value of fast food children’s meals and comparing it to restaurant chains known to offer toys in their meals, the county estimates that 10 out of 12 meals exceeding the recommended caloric limits for children came with toys. One in four youth in Santa Clara County are either overweight or obese, and one in three low-income children in Santa Clara County between ages two and five are overweight or obese, according to the county press release about the new ordinance.
Nationally, childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s, the county says, and obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. “The latest generation of children may be the first to live shorter lives than their parents,” Yeager said. “Using toys to entice children into poor health habits is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
The ordinance affects all restaurants in the unincorporated areas of the county. It requires a second reading before going into effect, and that will happen at the May 11 Board of Supervisors meeting. Restaurants will then be granted a 90-day grace period. During that time, restaurants will be given the opportunity offer alternative measures to meet the goals of the ordinance. If no suitable alternative is created and adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the ordinance will go into effect.