Officials in San Francisco are debating creating new nutritional standards for meals intended for children. Of a meal’s total calories, officials want to require that no more than 10 percent are from “added caloric sweeteners” and no more than 35 percent are from fat. They also want to prohibit the bundling of toys with meals that have over 600 calories total. The ordinance will further require kids’ meals to include a half cup of vegetables, or fruit if the meal is served at breakfast. Lastly, they ask that meals have a serving of multi-grains. Toys would be permitted if attached to healthier meals.
Many spoke out in favor of the new ordinance at public hearings this week, including representatives of nonprofit health advocacy groups, teachers and parents. Some feel that mandating healthier fast food goes beyond childhood nutrition, and is in fact a civil rights issue. Eric Mar, co-author of the ordinance, pointed out that Latinos and blacks have higher rates of obesity and diabetes.
But McDonald’s representatives paint a very different story, in an effort to protect its economic interests. They portrayed healthier kids’ meals as undermining parental authority. “We believe in giving our customers the right to choose,” said Karen Wells, McDonald’s USA vice president of U.S. strategy and menu. “Parents are telling us it is their decision what they want to feed their children and not necessarily in the hands of legislators.”
Cindy Goody, the director of nutrition for McDonald’s, testified that she is “very concerned that the ordinance creates an unrealistic standard for meals that no child actually will eat and only confuse parents about how to make appropriate choices for meals for their children.” She went on to say that the proposal goes “beyond what is suggested by recognized food authorities, specifically the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines for Americans.”
It looks like the McDonald’s reps didn’t do their homework. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the ordinance was created along guidelines written by the Institute of Medicine, under contract to the United States Dept. of Agriculture. Clearly, the ordinance will require restaurant chains to spend more on ingredients to meet the higher nutritional requirements.
Of course, if the toy ban passes, there will be some unhappy children when they can’t have both an action figure and a greasy hamburger. But in the long term, we’ll be making it easier for parents to provide their children with nutritious meals.
Santa Clara County has already banned the inclusion of toys in unhealthy kids’ meals. Unfortunately, according to KTVU, Mayor Gavin Newsom has stated that he would veto the measure if it passes next week.