"Healthy Happy Meals" Bill Targets Childhood Obesity

"Healthy Happy Meals" Bill Targets Childhood Obesity
Posted on 09/08/2015
Kid Eating Burger
By Bianca Seidman CBS News August 31, 2015, 6:30 PM

Every parent knows the appeal fast food meals hold for kids, especially when there's a toy included in the deal.

To help make those temptations a little less unhealthy, the New York city council member has proposed a "Healthy Happy Meals" bill, based on a similar ordinance in California.

Under the bill, restaurants serving special kids' meals that come with a toy would be required to limit the total calories in the meal and the amount of fat, sugar and sodium. They would also have to add more nutrition through fruit, vegetables or whole grains.

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center conducted a study of the kids meals at McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's and found that the legislation would make a noticeable difference in the battle against childhood obesity. They say posting calories on menus alone has not shown enough improvement.

"We found that kids that were ordering the children's meals, if the provisions in this bill were met, would save about 54 calories," Dr. Brian Elbel of NYU Langone Medical Center told CBS News. That's "almost a 10 percent reduction in calories," he said.

"We need to think of a number of policies happening at the same time," Elbel said. "This bill could be a step in the right direction."

The bill was first introduced in 2011 and then re-submitted in 2014 by city council member Ben Kallos. The specific limitations for meals that include toys at fast food restaurants would be:

  • 500 calories or less
  • Fewer than 35% of calories from fat
  • Fewer than 10% of calories from saturated fats
  • Fewer than 10% of calories from added sugars
  • Fewer than 600 mg. of sodium
  • One serving of fruit, vegetable or whole grains.

The bill's sponsor cites the "pester power" of children pleading for the toys as a factor influencing parents' food choices, and says according to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report, the fast food industry spent $714 million in 2009 on advertising specifically targeted to children, including promotional tie-ins with toy brands and offers that include toys.

Childhood obesity is a serious concern in New York City and nationwide. The city's Department of Health says "nearly half of all elementary school children and Head Start children are not a healthy weight. In New York City, 1 in 5 kindergarten students, and 1 in 4 Head Start children, is obese."

Across the U.S., the CDC says that one in six children and adolescents are obese. According to the USDA, one fourth of children's calories come from eating out, including fast food meals.

Restrictions on kids' meals that include toys were previously enacted in two California counties: San Francisco and Santa Clara. However, in 2011 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that McDonald's bypassed the restrictions by selling toys for a small extra charge instead of giving them away with the meals.

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