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San Francisco bans the Happy Meal

Consumer Reports News: November 10, 2010 12:55 PM

Under the ordinance, McDonald's could keep Happy
Meals on the menu if they get rid of the toy.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to make SF the first major city to outlaw McDonald’s Happy Meal.

The 8 to 3 vote means that the board has the votes to override Mayor Gavin Newsom's expected veto of the measure. The board had already approved the ban in a preliminary vote last week .

Under the ordinance, McDonald's could keep Happy Meals on the menu if they simply jettison the toy or add some fruit and vegetables—but would that really still be a Happy Meal? It would also need to come in under 600 calories, with less than 35 percent of those calories coming from fat.

A Yale study released Monday, which says it's "the most comprehensive study of fast-food nutrition and marketing ever conducted," found children as young as two are seeing more fast-food ads than ever and restaurants rarely offer parents healthy alternatives.

Here's a few unpleasant nuggets from the study:

• Out of 3,039 possible kids’ meal combinations, only 12 meet the researchers’ nutrition criteria for preschoolers. Only 15 meet nutrition criteria for older children.

• The average fast-food meal purchased by teens contains 800 to 1,100 calories, roughly half of their recommended total daily calories.

• At least 30 percent of the calories in menu items purchased by children and teens are from sugar and saturated fat.

• At most fast-food restaurants, a single meal contains at least half of young people’s daily recommended sodium.

According to the study, in 2009 children 6 to 11 saw 26 percent percent more ads for McDonald's and 10 percent more ads for Burger King than they did in 2007. Of course, parents have to actually pay for the Happy Meal. According to CNN, a McDonald's spokesperson told them in a statement that "Parents tell us it's their right and responsibility—not the government's—to make their own decisions and to choose what's right for their children."

Maybe the end of the Happy Meal wouldn't be a huge loss—McDonald's finished dead last for tastiest burger award in Consumer Reports’ 28,000 person reader survey comparing 18 fast food chains in our October issue. (Though none of the readers surveyed were children.) The Happy Meal still has until December 2011 to reform itself. If not, the return of the 500-calorie no-rib McRib may fill the vaccuum in children's bellies.

Chris Fichera

Take a look at our tips on defensive eating at fast food restaurants and other diet and fast-food info.

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