April 28, 2010
Officials in the county of Santa Clara, in the heart of technology centre Silicon Valley south of San Francisco, have voted to enact the ban to fight an “obesity epidemic” sweeping California and the United States.
“This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children’s love of toys to peddle high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium kids meals,” said Ken Yeager, the county supervisor behind the ban.
He said it “breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes.”
County public health officials that spoke in support of the ban at a public meeting blamed fast-food for being a factor in soaring obesity rates threatening American children with diabetes and shortened lifespans.
“Obesity is literally an epidemic,” Dan Peddycord, the county public health director, said in remarks to the board of supervisors.
“If food meals sold in restaurants contain too many calories, high fats, high sugars, high sodium and are attached to an incentive item like a toy, that is part of the environment we make our decision in.”
The ban is to take effect in 90 days unless major fast-food chains and the state restaurateurs association successfully pitch a better solution.
It will bar toys from being offered with meals that don’t meet a set of basic nutrition standards.
Harlan Levy, of McDonald’s, was part of a fast-food restaurant contingent that turned out to oppose the ban.
“It substitutes the county’s judgment for the judgment of parents,” Levy told the board. “It does nothing to address a holistic response to the problem.”
For example, the ban doesn’t change sedentary lifestyles that have children sitting watching television or playing video games, Levy argued.
“It’s parents, schools, exercise, walkability but it is also the endless promotion of toys that are tied to unhealthy meals that is particularly to blame,” Mr Yeager said of growing obesity problems with children.
“It is unfair to parents and children to use toys to get them hooked on eating high-calorie, high-fat foods early in life.”
Fat, salt and sugar form an addictive combination in the brain and adding a toy reward to the formula makes the habit even harder to kick, according to county health officials.