NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Parents with small children know all too well how alluring that toy with the toy with the kids’ meal can be at a fast food restaurant.
But as CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported, new legislation being introduced in the New York City Council would take the toy out of meals with too many calories.
Happy Meals have come with all sorts of different toys over the years, from Hot Wheels cars to Barbie items and Kung Fu Panda gear.
But some lawmakers feel the toys are giving kids an incentive to order an unhealthy meal.
“I remember, as a kid, pestering my mother because I wanted that toy,” said City Councilman Ben Kallos (D-5th). The councilman said he begged for Happy Meals for the toys even though he was brought up in a kosher household and could not eat the food, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
Kallos has now introduced a bill Thursday that would put an end to putting toys in kids’ meals that are often unhealthy.
The measure, dubbed “Healthy Happy Meals,” would ban fast food restaurants from offering free toys and other incentives with kids’ meals, like a McDonald’s Happy Meal, if the food in the children’s meal contains more than 500 calories and more than 600 milligrams of sodium.
“We’re trying to make sure that any happy meal is a healthy happy meal, and making sure that any incentives, be they toys or anything else, are tied to healthy meal choices and healthy eating,” Kallos said.
It would also require the inclusion of a fruit, a vegetable or a whole grain serving.
“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.”
Councilman Corey Johnson (D-3rd), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said it’s important to teach kids to make nutritious choices.
“Children’s meals at fast food restaurants are often unhealthy, yet they come with a toy,” Johnson, who also chairs the Council’s Committee on Health, said in a statement. “We should not be incentivizing unhealthy food when kids are not ready to make healthy choices.”
“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 Center for Science in the Public Interest Nutrition Policy Director Margo Wooten. “This is a practice that is meant to exploit the cognitive immaturity of children and make parents’ job harder. And over 95 percent of kids’ meals at the top chain restaurants are unhealthy.”
Happy Meals have gotten a bit healthier over the years. Instead of shakes and soda, they have fat free chocolate milk and also apple slices. But the chocolate milk is 130 calories, the cheeseburger is 300 the fries 110 and the slices 15 — for a total of 555 calories.
A similar Wendy’s Kids’ Meal includes a juice box for 90 calories, fries for 220 calories, a cheeseburger for 290 calories, and apple slices for 40 calories – for a total of 640 calories.
And as for Burger King, their Kids’ Meal includes a cheeseburger for 280 calories, fat free milk for 90 calories, apple slices for 30 calories, and fries for 190 calories – for a total of 590 calories.
Parents who spoke to CBS 2 were happier with their healthier options, and would like to see it taken a step further with the legislation.
“I’m glad that they put fruit now,” one woman said.
“A lot of kids aren’t conscious of what they’re putting into their body, and then they become heavy and then slow, and then when they go to school, they’re not eating the right thing,” said parent Pernell Vassell.
Restaurants that failed to comply with the bill would be issued fines.
According to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report, the fast food industry spent over $714 million in 2009 on advertising to children, with nearly half on toys.
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