Happy Meal Set to Become a Sad Meal in San Francisco

By Jennifer Welsh | November 4, 2010 12:04 pm

happy-mealA decision made Tuesday by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors may make little kids (and probably some adults) cry. With an un-vetoable vote of 8 to 3, the board banned restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Burger King from giving out toys with “unhealthy” happy meals within San Francisco’s city limits.

The decision is preliminary and will be followed up by a second debate and vote on Tuesday, November 9.

Under the proposed rule, meals deemed healthy can still be packed with action figures. To meet the city’s “healthy” standard a kid’s meal must contain fewer than 640 milligrams of sodium and 600 calories, and under 35 percent of those calories can come from fat. It also has to include a serving of fruit or vegetable with each meal and meet a number of other requirements (pdf).

The majority of McDonald’s Happy Meal options don’t meet these standards, including ALL of the cheeseburger options and any meal with fries. McDonald’s spokesperson told The New York Times they don’t agree with the Supervisors’ stance:

McDonald’s called the bill misguided. “It’s not what our customers want,” said Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for the company, in a statement. “Nor is it something they asked for.”

The restaurateurs aren’t the only ones disappointed in the decision. San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom (who just won the lieutenant governor’s seat in this week’s election) said he would veto the bill, even though with eight supervisor votes he can’t override the decision. Others aren’t excited that the city government is trying to control what individuals are eating, said chef Henry Dimbleby in his blog for The Telegraph:

Libertarians, needless to say, are not impressed. “This is great,” reads a typical message board entry. “As a parent, I support this 100%. But I was wondering, why stop at telling me what to feed my kids? It would be great if the government would also tell me what time to put my kids to bed and what to clothe them in and what names to give them and how many I can have. That would make being a parent much, much easier and less time consuming. Thanks.”

A very similar ban came out of Santa Clara County (also in California’s Bay Area) in April. The San Francisco board was spurred to act themselves because of the city’s struggle with childhood obesity: Over 30 percent of fifth graders are overweight. The board hopes the ban will encourage kids to eat healthier foods, supervisor Bevan Dufty told the SF Gate:

“If you have to put a Shrek doll with a package of carrots,” Dufty added, “maybe that’s what you have to do, but there hasn’t been a real incentive for this industry to do that, and I think that this legislation in a small appropriate way is a step to say you need to do things differently.”

Related content:
Discoblog: To Catch Hamburglars, McDonald’s Installs DNA-Spraying Security System
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: I’d like a number 2 value meal, a frosty, and a peer-reviewed publication, please.
Discoblog: Why Do Some People Never Get Fat? Scientists May Have the Answer
80beats: Will the Supreme Court Let California Kids Buy Violent Video Games?
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Fast food logos unconsciously trigger fast behaviour

Image: Flickr/cbgrfx123

  • Bigby

    Stupid waste of time and money. Do they really think the kid will eat the carrots just because they are served with a Shrek doll? The only thing that will get more nutritious is the garbage.
    When I was a kid there was mandatory PE in school — how about bringing that back? How about educational programs? I won’t work all the time but if it’s instituted early enough it’s got a better chance than mandating the contents of a Happy Meal.

  • plutosdad

    I bet not a single boardmember who voted for this understands that chocolate milk has more sugar than soda pop. Even orange juice is full of calories.

    McDonald’s has the healthy choices already, you can’t force parents to buy them or force kids to eat them.

    All that will happen is McDonalds will offer the toys seperately for $1.50 extra, and make a boatload of money off the new regulations. This won’t hurt McDonald’s one bit, it will hurt poor parents who can’t afford to buy the cheeseburger and fries meal and pay extra for the toy.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ Bee

    “It’s not what our customers want,” said Danya Proud…

    An unfortunately often drawn upon justification based on the mistaken belief that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” guides inevitably towards maximal happiness. It neglects that people’s preferences do indeed disagree with each other, real humal beings are irrational, they are illogical, they want greasy fast food AND be healthy (and/or lose weight), yet both isn’t compatible. That’s exactly the reason we do have laws and regulations. To some extend simply to protect us from ourselves. These same customers who allegedly don’t want to reduce temptation ruining children’s health also elected representatives of their interests who have just been doing their duty. So what did they want again?

  • http://carlsagansdanceparty.wordpress.com Steven Olsen

    Uh…is there anyone operating on the assumption that Happy Meals are the best food for kids? These sorts of laws are ridiculous.

  • TomInAK

    @#3: Theres an unfortunate and often drawn-upon belief that government regulators’ “iron fist” guides inevitably towards maximal happiness.

    There . . . fixed.

  • amphiox

    #3, and #5;

    Define “happiness” and provide a reliable measure by which one can assess maximization.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazin.com Jay

    Complete lunacy!!! This further proves the fact that the average American’s IQ drops continually every year. I have hope that scientists of old were right in the theory that California would one day fall off of the continent. Hopefully VERY soon. We will not miss CA and it’s dementia.

  • burger

    It’s a matter of principle: Nobody has the right to tell us what’s good for us. We are born free and if we decide to become obese and sick by eating happy meals then SO BE IT. Fundamental freedoms are under attack.

  • Jim Stokes

    I don’t understand why people think the government is telling them what to feed their kids. They’re not, they’re only saying the kid doesn’t get the toy unless they eat healthy. McDonalds can still sell the happy meal, it’s just not as exciting. Also, if fewer people buy McDonalds I’ll be a happy camper. Then farmers might change the way their farms are run and regular grocery store food would be cheaper. That way poor families can actually eat healthy instead of eating either the $1 cheeseburger (which will most likely cause diabetes) or ramen noodles.

  • burger

    Jim, don’t you understand it’s about principle?? The same collectivism that is today telling both you and McDonald’s you can’t sell/buy a happy meal with toy, the very same government with the very same iron fist will tell you tomorrow you can’t eat your most favourite vegetable. Just as an example, tomatos have a large carbon footprint because they need heat to grow, so if some people had their way, tomatos would be rationed.

    The answer to this madness is very simple: Individual freedom! Each and every individual can decide for himself. Nobody has a right to tell anyone else what to do. Nobody has a right to someone else’s property. Government’s sole purpose is to protect these rights.

  • TomInAK

    Best comment I’ve seen about this situation:

    “In the City by the Bay, if you want to roller skate naked down Castro Street wearing a phallic-symbol hat and snorting an eight-ball off a transgender hooker’s chest while underage kids run behind you handing out free heroin needles, condoms and coupons to the grand opening of the neighborhood’s newest bathhouse, that’s your right as a free citizen of the United States. But if you want to put a Buzz Lightyear toy in the same box with a hamburger and fries and sell it, you’re outta line, mister!”

  • Jim Stokes

    If the government decided to ration tomatoes because of their high carbon footprint then so be it. Since it would be lowering the carbon footprint of today that means another generation of humans can live tomorrow. Besides, the carbon footprint of a tomatoe is only high when grown out of season and not in favorable conditions. People should be less worried about cash crops and focus more on subsistence farming.

  • Jennifer Welsh

    Hey all,

    Thanks for the lively commenting! I think this is a really interesting issue and I’m glad to see you all have opinions about it.

    But I have just one question. @TomInAK: How can someone be both rollerskating AND snorting coke off a trans-gender hooker’s chest? Is the hooker rollerskating also? Backwards? That’s talent!

    Thanks for reading and expressing yourselves! I’m excited to see how the final vote goes next week.


  • Kris M.

    Oh really, Jim? And at what point does personal responsibility factor into your “the government’s just trying to do what’s best for us” equation? First of all, that cheapo, rinky-dink toy is not the only reason kids go to a fast food joint to get a kid’s meal. Haven’t you seen the play place, or the giant $1 DVD Redbox seated right where kids can see it? Why not ban those too while you’re at it?

    Secondly, childhood obesity doesn’t just happen because parents take their kids to McDonald’s for a burger and fries every once and a while. My parents took me to McDonald’s and Burger King and Wendy’s every now and then when I was a kid, but they also made me home-cooked meals, let me go outside and run around, encouraged me to participate in sports, made sure the kitchen was well-stocked with fruits, grains and vegetables for me to eat, and minimized the amount of junk food in the house. And because of them being responsible parents, I can safely say that I am not now nor have I ever been obese. And FYI, when I was a child, my parents lived paycheck to paycheck, and I have met plenty of parents living on food stamps who do not under any circumstances let their kids eat sugary foods, so don’t try to feed me your “poor people need a hand” liberal BS either.

    These obese kids have parents who are, in addition to letting them eat too much fast food, letting them eat junk food around the house, trying like crazy to get them outta taking PE class in school and letting them play video games all day. The only thing this law is doing is punishing everybody for the irresponsible parenting habits of a few, and I don’t see why the entire city of San Francisco has to suffer just because a few ignorant parents are sitting back and letting their kids get fat.

  • AmyLynn

    The drug makers and diabetes drug makers take in 10 billion$$$$ every year with no cure!!

    Food Chemicals are the cause of the diabetes and obesity crisis NOT CHEESE!

    The FDA and Drug makers know this and are laughing to the Billionaire$$$ bank!

    The food chemicals break the gut(insulin) and this is the cause of the diabetes and obesity crisis

    A filmmaker has been reversing diabetes and Obesity in now 10 countries and the drug makers do not promote the story

    just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

  • http://ef01f44a.any.gs Edwin Borghese

    This is a nice video!. I’d like to see more! You know? I’m now playing angry birds a tournament ,-Coke VS Pepsi-, to win $250 Coke or Pepsi products or Visa gift card from the Survey.Please click on my url.

  • Anida

    YEEEEESSSSS!!! This is exactly what needs to be done. BILLIONS are spent every year by corporations such as McDonalds on better advertising to get there nutritionally adept food into the hands of unweary children. This stuff is just as addictive as cigarettes. MSG causes cancer, the preservatives in the food can cause fatigue and increase blood toxicity.

    If you think you can’t force your children to eat right, YOU ARE A BAD PARENT.


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