By Claudie Qumsieh
If you’re going to San Francisco, don’t expect a toy in your Happy Meal. The city has become the first major U.S city to stop giving children toys with unhealthy meals. For meals to be sold with toys they will need to have less than 600 calories, contain fruit or vegetables and have a drink without lots of sugar.
The decision is an attempt to address the childhood obesity problem. San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar said ‘Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of colour’
McDonalds’ spokeswoman Danya Proud said “We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision. It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for.”
Kids are big customers in fast food. In the US more than $520 million is spent on toys and marketing directed at children, according to the US Federal Trade Commission report (2006). When combined with how much is spent targeting children by other food and drink companies, it totals $41.6 billion. In a recent Which? survey 38% of 8-11 year old said McDonalds was their favorite chain because of the toys in Happy Meals.
Video games are another way to target children. In the popular Sims game, where players control virtual communities, players are rewarded for running a virtual McDonalds Kiosk. In this virtual world characters eat food and earn credits for “hunger” and “fun”. Associating fast food with fun and play is one way to create long-term relationships with unhealthy food.
15% of American children are overweight according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Comparatively in the Scottish Health Survey 2008, a third of children (33.6%) were out with the healthy weight range, an increase from 29.8% a decade before.
The Scottish Government has established a National Indicator to reduce the increase of children out with a healthy range by 2018.