No More McDonald's Happy Meals For San Francisco Kids

No more toys for fat kids in San Francisco, where the board of supervisors voted this week to essentially ban McDonald's Happy Meals—at least in their current form. The ordinance marks the first time a major city in the U.S. has banned restaurants from offering toys with high-calorie meals that contain significant amounts of fat and sugar.

The measure doesn't ban toys from being served with all meals. Instead, restaurants can give toys out with meals if the food and drink combined add up to less than 600 calories and under 35% of the calories come from fat.

That spells trouble for McDonald's, where, for example, a Happy Meal containing a cheeseburger, small order of french fries, and a Sprite racks up 640 calories."We are extremely disappointed with this decision," said company spokeswoman Danya Proud in a statement. "It's not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for."

Not all of the restaurant's menu choices are that high in calorie content, however—so McDonald's could ostensibly tweak its Happy Meals down to size before the ban goes into effect in December 2011.

San Francisco may be the first major city to ban toys with high-calorie meals, but it isn't the first area in California to have such a ban. Santa Clara County banned the toy and unhealthy meal combo this past spring. McDonald's may not be worried yet—San Francisco is known for being health-conscious—but it might want to start thinking about the future of the Happy Meal. MickeyD's could take some lessons from In-N-Out, a popular fast food chain in the Western U.S. that seems to do just fine without using toys to lure children.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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26 Comments

  • Pat Elgee

    Yesterday Abby wanted to stop for lunch. She picked McDonalds. I ordered a grilled chicken wrap. Abby wanted the same, but would sacrifice the toy, so instead chose the Happy Meal with the toy.
    McDonalds offers only greasy fries with either a hamburger or mystery nuggets with the toy. McDonalds deliberately sabatoges parents' efforts to provide healthy meals. The next time we went out, I chose a different restaurant.

  • Tom Jeffrey

    The Happy Meal has been around for over 30 years, with a toy inside. So why suddenly is the Happy Meal responsible for obese children? The blame for overweight kids falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents who choose to feed their kids a steady diet of junk food.

    A good solution is to start educating kids in school about making smart food choices.

  • David Chipp-Smith

    Unbelievable.
    This along with a story out of Ottawa that the government in Canada is looking to force cell phone manufacturers to put warning labels on cell phones due to the chance that it may cause cancer due to radiation. Really??
    Come on people. Do we really need the government to 'protect us' through legislation. Last I checked there was freedom of choice!

  • renee

    Unfortunately, EVERYONE pays for a country with an obesity epidemic. The costs of health care, loss productivity, and lower cognitive functioning (yes, obesity has been found to be related to fatigue and less-than-optimal cognitive functioning) are costs that are shared among all of a nation's citizens. It's time we wake up and realize that activities that induce us to eat unhealthy foods and more of them (super sizes at cheap prices) are HURTING, not helping us.

  • Roger Phillips

    No more Happy Meals in San Francisco? This just proves that SF is truly the most anal city in the USA (in more ways than one). Parents should be free to choose what children eat. Yes, many Americans now look like a Botero painting but they are making that choice. Labeling is fine but we need to be allowed to eat what we choose. This kind of mindset explains NP and why she is now being booted out and forced to fly home to SF on her broomstick. By the way, simply looking at NP's face is hazardous to our health--can SF make it a law that she has to wear a veil in public? Americans are tired of lib politicians trying to run every aspect of our lives. Hey, I need their cell phone number so I can get their permission to use the toilet!

  • David T

    Tackling the child obesity problem will take a multi faceted approach. Clearly the 'better parenting' option is not working well, given the statistics in this area. The SF policy is bringing awareness to the problem. For those of you who feel this will lead to greater limits on your personal freedoms, I would suggest this is more in line with restrictions on cigarette smoking, BPA bans, asbestos bans, etc. The government is responsible to protect the people, and in this case, create awareness in those that chose to consume this garbage food. The sky isn't falling on personal freedoms, we are just becoming aware of means to help educate consumers. I think its a good thing and support further restrictions on junk food, soda, and other harmful, unhealthy consumables. In the end we all pay for poor eating choices through higher insurance premiums.

  • juan valdez

    Coming from the City that supports gay bath houses. Spread a little pleasure food no. no. Spread a deadly virus. Now that must be defended at all cost. Pathetic.

  • christina young

    I used to work at McDonalds, as one of the managers, long ago. I can tell ya people don't like to realize that there are healthier options for adults and children, to blame mcdonalds for obestity, is like blaming a cigarette company for lung cancer. People don't realize that they need to take responsibility for not teaching there children healthy eating habits. Its not McDonalds, or a schools, or anyone elses but theres. So Parents, get off your lazy butt, get your child outside to play, instead of watching TV or playing video games, or on that damn computer or cell phone, keeping them active and eating right is what helps keep someone healthy. If your child is fat with health issues guess what, yep your fault. You all know that you can ask for the toy, you don't have to order a happy meal to get it, we all know that there is apples, salads, etc.. McDonalds doesn't make you eat it. Sorry everyone, stupid and ignorant and lazy people, just really get to me. If i was McDonalds i would take it back to court have those stupid people sued for child neglect. for neglecting a childs health. if they can sue over this crap, then mcdonalds can sue for that.

  • Stephanie Styles

    This is ridiculous. Last I was aware this is a free country, correct? So, someone chooses to allow their children to indulge themselves with a freaking happy meal once in a while, we should punish them and not let them get a cheap toy. Doesn't matter that the toy is quickly broken or discarded less than a week later. There are more important things going on right now and all they can do with their small minds, is ban toys from a child's happy meal. Way to go, you are a real winner. Why don't you try to do something important now?

  • Jessica Johnson

    @ Ed Younkin
    Ahh but insurance companies due charge based on weight and lifestyle. Mostly on weight because it's an indicator of what kind of lifestyle you lead. While I think it's an excellent idea for anyone to take a pro-active stance against something, the fact remains of where will it stop? I agree with Michael Davis that we need to teach better parenting skills. After all, no one is forcing the kids to eat happy meals. People are buying them for their kids. Part of the that problem stems from the fact that most families don't have time to actually cook a full meal and sit down to eat together. By San Francisco banning certain types of happy meals, they're only addressing the symptoms, not the actual problem. There will be people that will protest because they want to purchase a regular happy meal, so why should they or their kids be punished for it by not receiving a toy like the others? It's too many laws in place for "our own good" instead of providing us the means and opportunities to make better decisions without suffering negatively, like a loss of income, because of it.

  • Chris Reich

    Yes indeed, shocking! Take it to court and get it overturned.

    And then...

    Let's give Harry Potter toys with packs of cigarettes. No, we won't sell cigarettes to kids, that would be wrong. But when mommy buys a pack of Marlborough, junior gets a toy. That teaches the kids how rewarding cigarettes are without directly marketing to kids---after all, the gift would be for the purchaser. We can't control who the cigarette buyer might choose give the toy, right?

    If selling cigarettes is legal, and it is, why couldn't we do that? Is there anything wrong with doing it? What if San Francisco banned that practice too? Would it be as shocking as banning inducements to eat harmful food?

    The other point that needs to be made is that if the packaging and toy is such a sales magnet, would it hurt sales to put more nutritious food in the happy box? I don't think it would. Why doesn't McDonald's lead the way?

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

    I would really like to see people who handle food at McDonald's wear gloves. Next time you're in a McDonald's, watch the "assembler" wipe their head, touch their pants, pick up garbage and then handle a burger.

  • David Chipp-Smith

    Issue is McD's has provided plenty of "healthy alternatives" in their Happy meals (Apples instead of fries, Milk and juice instead of pop.
    People make their own choices. To legislate something as stupid as this is absolutely insane. So basically screw personal responsibility and let the government tell us what we can and cannot do?

    As far as your examples using the cigarette analogy - way off base as far as a comparison.

  • Rob Day

    You say 'Why doesn't McDonald's lead the way?" They are an american business and should get to choose to lead the way and not be forced by Stalincisco

    If this is what the people want then there is a great marketing opportunity for a company to step in an act. If this is not what the people want then why should the state be imposing it.

    Besides, they could basically turn that sprite into a diet sprite and hit the under 600 cal mark to supply toys. What has been accomplished? Now kids get the fake sugar which has plenty of problems of its own

  • Michael Davis

    Shocking! Appalling! Why does everyone want the government telling them what to do? Maybe instead of voting for more govenrment control we should be teaching parenting skills and let people make their own decisions, whether good or bad people should still have the freedom of choice.

  • Morgan Barnhart

    It's shocking in a great way! I mean, still a surprise that didn't really see coming but I feel like this is a great step forward. McDonalds can definitely step it up and bring out a healthier option.

  • Rob Day

    In a great way? How so? McDonalds already offers the healthier options in apples and milk. If a parent chooses to allow their kid to have fries and burger then that's their choice.

    Ben Franklin said "He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither" perhaps for 2010 it should be "He who gives up freedom for health deserves neither" - and yes I do believe the ability for a consumer to choose is an aspect of freedom.

  • Daniel Torres

    It may be a little imposing, but I can dig it. Aside from baiting kids into a box of fat, the toys are simply cheap and quickly discarded.

  • Rob Day

    Where do you draw the line on imposing? And they aren't regulating against toys - just toys in meals of 600+ cal so the latter half of your statement doesn't apply.

    Packaging, commercials, blah blah blah are all intended to "bait" consumers into choosing a particular product. We live in America and it should be up to that consumer.