Unhappy Meals in San Francisco :(

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The Giants have won the World Series, but it’s unhappy times at a certain Bay Area fast-food chain. By a veto-proof margin (8-3) the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to ban meals packaged with toys unless the meal contains fruits and vegetables, is less than 600 calories and is low in fat and sodium. Once the ordinance goes into effect next December, McDonald’s restaurants in the city will either be forced to radically reformulate their Happy Meals or charge separately for toys.

Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the legislation, told the L.A. Times it was all “part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice.”

ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross sees it differently. “This is like the epitome of a simple solution to a complex problem,” he says. “It’s just misguided; it’s not well thought-out, and it clearly won’t make a dent in the obesity problem.”

Dr. Ross points to the disappointing new results of two large public health interventions aimed at African-American girls in Memphis and Oakland, Calif. The 8- to 10-year-old girls received practical advice and goals for staying fit, or regular dance classes and an intervention aimed at reducing the amount of time they spent playing on the computer and watching TV. They and their parents also received nutrition advice to try to make their diets more healthful.

But over the course of two years, girls who enrolled in either program were just as likely to gain weight as girls who didn’t participate in the interventions, according to the study results, published in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“Promoting healthy diets from the time a child is very small is needed,” the lead author of one of the studies, Dr. Robert Kesges at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, told Reuters Health. “If more people wanted healthy alternatives, [fast food restaurants] would sell them.”

If these kind of interventions aren’t effective at reducing obesity, Dr. Ross asks, is replacing French fries with broccoli in some Happy Meals really going to make a difference?