San Francisco Puts Limits on McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys

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San Francisco has now passed a law cracking down on the practice of including free toys in unhealthy restaurant meals aimed at children. It became the first major American city to do so this week when the Board of Supervisors passed the law, which comes into effect on December 1,  with a 8-to-3 vote.

Just like an ordinance that was passed earlier this year in Santa Clara County near San Francisco, this law will demand that restaurant kids’ meals meet specific nutritional standards before they can include toys.

National Restaurant Association and McDonald’s Corp both oppose the law, with the later pioneering that practice by including free toys in its popular “Happy Meal” targeted at young customers.

“We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision. It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for,” said McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud. “Getting a toy with a kid’s meal is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald’s.”

The new law would limit toy give-aways to children’s meals that contain fewer than 600 calories, contain fruits and vegetables, and includes a drink that does not have excessive sugar or fat.

Supporters defend the law by saying it is a step towards promoting healthy eating habits in kids while combating childhood obesity.

The bill’s sponsor, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, stated “Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of color.”

“This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment,” he explained.

according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a full 15 percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese. In some states obesity in youth exceeds 30 percent, which places a significant number at risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The McDonald’s Happy Meal debuted in the United States in 1979. Those meals contained toys that included a “McDoodler” stencil and the “McWrist” wallet.  More current versions favor items based on popular children’s movies or sought after collectibles like beanie babies in recent years.

In 2006, the most recent year data is available for, promotional spending aimed at children topped $1.6 billion, according to a U.S. Federal Trade Commission report.


Photo courtesy of Breakmould