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Prevention Institute

December 2, 2011

McDonald’s Sidesteps San Francisco’s Healthy Meals Ordinance

Yesterday, San Francisco’s landmark Healthy Meals Incentive Law went into effect. The law, which generated a spate of media attention when it passed last November, sets basic nutritional standards for kids’ meals that are accompanied by toy giveaways.  It holds fast food chains accountable for their role in the current diet-related health crisis by curbing the longstanding – and effective – practice of pairing nutritionally poor foods with attractive toys to bolster sales and build brand loyalty in children.

The new law offered fast food companies an opportunity to support kids’ health by making the healthier kids’ meals the most appealing. Instead, local McDonalds and Burger Kinds chose to protect policies that use kids’ toys to promote their unhealthiest meals. To sidestep the law, these San Francisco franchises have decided to offer parents the option to buy a toy with any kids’ meal—healthier or not—for just ten cents, a move that neutralizes the appeal of healthier meals and protects the unhealthy status quo.

We invite you to read these articles, and consider submitting a comment online or sending a letter-to-the editor today:

  • According to the New York Times, “McDonald’s says that without the trinkets, the meals do not hold the same appeal for customers.” “In the battle for over children’s health, consider this a win for obesity and diabetes,” said Harold Goldstein, from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
  • The Examiner reported Scott Rodrick, who owns over half of the McDonald’s franchises in San Francisco, said charging ten cents for the toy is “complying with the letter of the law” while also providing “what our customers want.”
  • A number of the law’s critics are applauding Rodrick’s approach. An editorial published today in the San Francisco Chronicle characterized the law as “a classic example of regulation run amok” and went on to assert that “parents – not politicians – should be the ones telling their children what they can and can’t order off the menu.”

All eyes are on San Francisco at this time, and it’s critical that advocates respond to media coverage and highlight the impact and importance of the Healthy Meals Incentive Law. Here are some angles and talking points to cover in your online comments, letters to the editor, and op-eds.

  • Fast food companies need to do better by our kids. McDonald’s and Burger King had the opportunity to make their healthiest kids’ meals the most appealing. Instead, they chose to flout the law—and the voice of the people—to support the unhealthy status quo. They may have the political power to avoid accountability, but they still are responsible for helping create a childhood health crisis. They can, and should, do better.
  • We’re proud of San Francisco and other cities implementing policies that support children and families. The current system puts the onus on parents to shield their kids. But when food and beverage marketers have access to children in schools, in stores, on television, and increasingly on the internet, parents have the odds stacked against them. San Francisco is leading the way in limiting the reach of junk food marketing, leveling the playing field for parents who are concerned about the fast food industry’s manipulation of our children.
  • Curbing junk food marketing to kids is a critical strategy for improving health. According to a recent Rudd Center study, the fast food industry spent over $4 billion marketing their products in 2009, resulting in a 34% increase in children’s exposure to TV ads since 2003. And it’s paying off. 40% of parents reported their child asks to go to McDonald’s at least once a week; 15% of preschoolers ask to go every day. Aggressive marketing undeniably impacts children’s food preferences, and policies such as the Healthy Meals Incentive help right the balance, giving consumers more control, more options, and paving the way for better health.
  • These policies work. Even before the San Francisco policy went into effect, other fast food restaurants listened and took responsible action. Jack-in-the-box has announced it will discontinue all toy giveaways, and others have committed to improving the nutritional profile of their kids’ meals. McDonald’s may be ignoring parents' voices, but other restaurant chains are making changes in the right direction.

Want more framing tips and emails like this one? Strategic Alliance’s Rapid Response Media Network provides advocates with timely news synthesis and analysis; framing guidance; and targeted talking point in response to major food and physical activity-related news stories. Click here to subscribe today.

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