Making Happy Meals into Healthier Meals


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East Side councilman wants fast food restaurants to serve healthier fare in exchange for the ability to give away toys to kids


Happy Meals might soon need to get healthy.


Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos introduced legislation last week that would set stricter nutritional standards for meals served with toys.


The bill, which is co-sponsored by Council Members Stephen Levin and Corey Johnson, would prohibit fast food eateries from offering free toys or coupons in kids' meals?such as McDonald's Happy Meals?that contain more than 500 calories or 600 mg of sodium.


Kallos, a Democrat, introduced the bill on Thursday. The measure is designed to help fight childhood obesity.


"An estimated one fourth of a child's meals come from restaurants or fast food places. These could be healthy calories," Kallos said in a statement. "It is difficult enough for parents to give their children healthy food without the fast food industry spending hundreds of million dollars per year advertising to children, and nearly half of that on toys."


According to a survey conducted by USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost half the calories children consume outside of the home comes from fast food eateries.


In the statement, Kallos' office points out that a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report indicated that, in 2009, fast food companies spent $714 million advertising products to children, with nearly half the spending going to toys. Half of elementary school students are overweight, according to the New York City Department of Health, and 20 percent of kindergarten students are obese.


"For far too long, fast-food chains such as Wendy's and Burger King have been using toy giveaways to lure children to meals of cheeseburgers, French fries, and sodas and other meals of poor nutritional quality," said Margo Wooten, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "This is a practice that is meant to exploit the cognitive immaturity of children and make parents' job harder."


Council Member Leroy Comrie first introduced the legislation in 2011. If the bill eventually passes, Kallos said restaurants will be able to incentivize children to make healthier choices, as opposed to seeking out calorie and sodium-laden fast food meals in order to snag free toys.


Under the bill, restaurants that violate the measure will have to pay a fine of up to $500 for the first offense, up to $1,000 for a second offense and up to $2,500 for all subsequent violations. A call to a McDonald's spokesman was not immediately returned.


It is difficult enough for parents to give their children healthy food without the fast food industry spending hundreds of million dollars per year advertising to children, and nearly half of that on toys."


Councilman Ben Kallos


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