San Fran bans Happy Meal toys

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.

Although advertising during children’s TV is banned in the UK, advertisers are coming up with more sophisticated routes into children’s psyches. “Don’t play with your food”, parents used to say. Marketing campaigns have convinced at least some parents that playing with food  is fun. Some retailers in the UK sell McDonald’s Play sets for 3 year olds and above. These 3 year olds can play with plastic nuggets, hamburger ingredients, cookies, fries and ketchup.
One mother’s online review of the McDonald’s Play set said: “i bought this for my son’s birthday because he loves McDonald alot. When he opened it, I can see his eyes lighting up. He was so happy and play with them everyday!” (sic) 


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.