April 29, 2010

California County Bans Toys In Fast Food Meals

A county in California is halting restaurants from using toys to get children hooked on unhealthy food such as Kids Club Meals offered by Burger King and Happy Meals offered by McDonalds.

Officials in Santa Clara county, in the heart of Silicon Valley, voted Tuesday to ban restaurants from offering toys to lure kids in, in an attempt to fight the growing "obesity epidemic" throughout California and the United States.

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's love of toys to peddle high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium kids meals," Ken Yeager, the county supervisor behind the ban, told the AFP news agency. The ordinance is meant to break the link between unhealthy food and fun prizes.

Public health officials that were in favor of the ban spoke out at a public meeting, blaming fast-food restaurants for being a factor in soaring obesity rates that threaten American children with diabetes and other health issues.

"If food meals sold in restaurants contain too many calories, high fats, high sugars, high sodium and are attached to an incentive item like a toy, that is part of the environment we make our decision in," said county public health director Dan Peddycord.

The ban is set to begin in 90 days unless fast-food chains and the state restaurateurs association can come up with a better solution. The ban will bar toys from being offered with meals that do not meet basic nutritional guidelines.

Harlan Levy of McDonalds was one of several fast-food officials that turned out to oppose the ban. "It substitutes the county's judgment for the judgment of parents," Levy told the board. "It does nothing to address a holistic response to the problem."

Levy argued that the ban does nothing to change sedentary lifestyles already instilled in many children, which include watching television and playing video games.

"It's parents, schools, exercise, walkability but it is also the endless promotion of toys that are tied to unhealthy meals that is particularly to blame," Yeager said of growing obesity problems with children.

"It is unfair to parents and children to use toys to get them hooked on eating high-calorie, high-fat foods early in life," he added.

Fatty, salty and sugary foods are an addictive combination for the brain and adding toy prizes to that formula makes it that much harder for kids to stop eating unhealthy foods, according to county health officials.

Supervisor Liz Kniss, who was in favor of the ban, said "It is easy to say that we as parents should make the decision but kids can be so persuasive."


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