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Happy Meals Are About to Get A lot Less Happy

California kids will now have fewer incentives to ditch mom's homemade organically grown, tofu steak dinners for Happy Meals, thanks to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, the board took the first steps to create healthier choices by passing an ordinance that

bans toys from fast-food children's meals, lest they meet new nutritional standards.

What will become of McDonalds' artery-clogging Happy Meals is anybody's guess. But the ordinance is already riling up the restaurant chain's franchise owners.

"Somehow the San Francisco Board of Supervisors just took the happy out of Happy Meals," said Scott Rodrick, in the San Francisco Chronicle. Rodrick, who owns 10 McDonald's restaurants added, "It would be an understatement to say how disappointed I am with this legislation."

San Francisco supervisors passed the measure on a minimum number of votes (8-3), which will allow them to navigate around Mayor Gavin Newsom's expected veto on the measure.

The board is scheduled to take a final vote next week. If passed, the plan will take effect in December.

Proponents say that the apparent "lure" of those damned plastic toys in kids' meals puts parents wanting to control their children's diets at a clear disadvantage.

To counteract that, San Francisco fast-food restaurants will be allowed to give away a free toy, trading card, admission ticket or other "incentive item" as part of its kiddy meals but only if the food items meet the city's new guidelines: it must contain fewer than 600 calories, have less than 640 milligrams of sodium, derive less than 35 percent of the calories from fat, or 10 percent from saturated fat.

And the meals must contain at least a half cup of fruits or vegetables.

In addition, children won't be able to wash down the new meals with a can of Pepsi or Sprite soda. Under the new rules, the drinks can't be sugary or overly sweetened either.

The proposal, which was modeled after a recent law in Santa Clara County, may sound like a good idea for those concerned about the nation's growing obesity epidemic, which affects one of every three school children.

But don't tell that to Mayor Newsom, who remains opposed the measure.

The San Francisco mayor "thinks it's both a wrong and ineffective approach to combating child obesity," said Tony Winnecker, spokesman for the mayor's office, in a written statement.

"Parents not politicians should decide what their kids are allowed to eat and government taking away their children's toys doesn't help parents make healthier food choices for their families," he said.

Ninth District councilwoman Jan Perry, who successfully pushed for a 2008 moratorium on all stand-alone fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles, has yet to decide whether she will adopt a similar measure.

Instead, she is focusing her efforts to turn the South LA moratorium into a permanent freeze, according to Eva Behrend, communications director for Perry's office.

It's difficult to forecast whether San Francisco's attempt to curb fast-food consumption among youth will have an affect on their food choices.

Anyone who has ever lived below the poverty line and has had to depend on fast-food cheeseburgers, french fries and chicken strips for survival will know that it isn't the allure of a toy but the ongoing threat of starvation that ultimately keeps families coming back for more.

So if the government is serious about improving children's health, perhaps they should also take more serious steps to make healthier food options affordable and available in local supermarkets and stores...and not just kill the joy out of children's fast-food options.


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