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SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance yesterday that bans eateries from giving away toys with children's meals if the meal doesn't meet a certain nutritional standard.
The law, which kicks into effect in December 2011, is meant to curb childhood obesity.
McDonald’s, who has helped lead the pack in selling Happy Meals to children that include toys, has been anything but happy over the new law. “We are extremely disappointed with this decision. It is not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for," said McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud.
Scott DeFife, Executive Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs for the National Restaurant Association, declared, “Rather than focusing on real solutions to the problem of childhood obesity, the Board chose to push forward an unpopular and misguided ordinance that will likely do nothing to help address this problem. Parents and guardians should be making the decisions about their family dining experiences. The National Restaurant Association continues to advocate a more holistic approach to combating childhood obesity by providing consumers with more information and options, promoting healthful menu items, increasing produce offerings, encouraging more physical activity, and enhancing consumer education."
The Rudd Center Study Stirs Up Debate
Into the heated debate over food marketing and children comes a new study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. After studying 12 of the nation’s largest quick service restaurant brands, the study concluded that fast-food chains focus intensely on children.“
"Despite pledges to improve their marketing practices, fast food companies seem to be stepping up their efforts to target kids," lead researcher Jennifer L. Harris, Ph.D., M.B.A., director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center, told ConsumerAffairs.com.
"Today, preschoolers see 21 percent more fast food ads on TV than they saw in 2003, and somewhat older children see 34 percent more,” said Harris.
The National Restaurant Association thinks the industry is trying hard to push healthier choices on children. "There can be no dispute that the restaurant industry has been committed to providing a growing array of nutritious offerings for children,” says Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., the National Restaurant Association's director of nutrition and healthy living. "Numerous surveys show the increasing number of healthful options in kids’ meals, and nutritious offerings in childrens' meals is the number one food trend in quickservice restaurants.”
A new study on adults by food-industry researcher Technomic shows that consumers say they want healthier choices, but then they don’t buy them when restaurant chains go through considerable effort to provide them. Its online survey of 1,500 consumers showed that nearly half of consumers want healthier menu items, but only about a quarter consider nutrition when dining out.
“There is often a disconnect between consumers’ intentions and their actions,” says Technomic EVP Darren Tristano. “Many consumers are actually making substantial changes to their overall habits, even basing which restaurants they frequent in part based on their impressions of the healthfulness of the brands. However, as many of us know from personal experience, diners do not always follow through on their intentions once it is time to order.”
Technomic’s survey showed that consumers strongly disagree with the notion that restaurants are responsible for America’s obesity epidemic. Only 16 percent place blame solely on restaurants.