Dispatch: Happy Meals Get Grilled

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Legislators in San Francisco have another bone to pick with McDonald’s and other fast-food chain restaurants, and this time it’s regarding the content of their Happy Meals. A new ordinance proposes to ban toys from kids’ meals unless they contain half a cup of fresh fruit or three-quarters of a cup of fresh vegetables. In addition to limiting the amount of calories and sodium in Happy Meals, the new rules would ultimately force franchises to supplant french fries with broccoli.

A similar law was already enacted in Santa Clara County, which applies to a small number of fast-food restaurants in unincorporated areas. But according to the Washington Times, those billion-plus Happy Meals account for a tiny fraction of the calories and sodium kids ingest a year, while the potato chips and ice cream consumed at home contribute much more powerfully to the obesity epidemic.

ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan agrees: “This legislation will do nothing to curb the serious problem of childhood obesity.” She adds, “The word ‘calories’ is not a pejorative term, and while ‘fast food’ has a negative health image, the reality is that there is no caloric difference between a home-made cheeseburger, mashed potato and buttered roll dinner and a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries.”

Dr. Whelan also points out that since their introduction in the late 1970s, Happy Meals have actually decreased in caloric content by up to 40 percent.