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It’s a sad day for Happy Meals in Santa Clara County

County officials vote to ban toys and other promotions that restaurants offer with high-calorie children’s meals.

April 28, 2010|By Sharon Bernstein, Los Angeles Times

Happy Meal toys and other promotions that come with high-calorie children's meals will soon be banned in parts of Santa Clara County unless the restaurants meet nutritional guidelines approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors.

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's' love of toys" to sell high-calorie, unhealthful food, said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who sponsored the measure. "This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes."

Voting against the measure was Supervisor Donald Gage, who said parents should be responsible for their children.

"If you can't control a 3-year-old child for a toy, God save you when they get to be teenagers," he said. Gage, who is overweight, said he was a living example of how obese children can become obese adults.

But he questioned the role of fast-food toys. "When I was growing up in Gilroy 65 years ago, there were no fast-food restaurants," Gage said.

The board, whose jurisdiction extends only to the unincorporated parts of the county, including much of Silicon Valley, voted 3 to 2 in favor of the ban after a contentious meeting that included more than an hour of testimony on both sides.

In favor of the item were public health administrators, parents and doctors; opposed were fast-food franchisees, other parents, and fans of fast-food toys who said the promotions are often used to provide Christmas presents for poor children.

Dr. Dan Delgado, director of a county program that targets childhood obesity, said the toys are a powerful lure for children, encouraging them to eat unhealthy food, which then helps cause obesity.

Delgado told the supervisors that parents who come into his clinic say they often buy Happy Meals and other fast food for their children because of the toys that are included. Delgado said that the obese children coming into his clinic include a 5-year-old with Type-2 diabetes.

But Steve Peat, who owns seven McDonald's franchises in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, said he and his wife work hard to promote healthy lifestyles for children through their restaurants. Peat said that they have donated funds for children's sports and other activities, and recently won an award for community service from the McDonald's Corp.

The toys won't disappear right away.

As a compromise to win majority support, the five-member board agreed to put off implementing the measure for 90 days, to give the fast-food industry time to come up with a voluntary program for improving the nutritional value of children's meals.

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