San Francisco Tackles Childhood Obesity

Nov 12

In early October I drove home to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to visit my mom, my sister Teresa and my 11-month-old nephew, Noah Allyn. The week before my scheduled trip my sister said something that blew me away. At 11 months, Noah loves McDonald’s Happy Meals. He’s particularly fond of the chicken nuggets, apples and French fries; my guess is because he can grab them quickly and put them in his mouth with ease.

Hearing this I immediately began to worry. Is it too soon to allow him to eat McDonald’s? After all, both my mom and dad’s sides of the family have been affected by diabetes, my brother-in-law too. I worried about what this early exposure to fast food would mean later on in his life.

I’ll admit, the thought of Noah feeding himself was too adorable to miss. So yes, Auntie Ria broke down and purchased Noah a Happy Meal.

I’m sure mothers, and aunts alike, have felt similar concerns about what to feed their little ones. In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors just made the decision a little easier.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on Tuesday, Nov. 2, the board voted 8-3, to ban most of McDonald’s Happy Meals and other fast-food servings with toys to meet new nutritional standards.

This vote makes San Francisco the first major city in the country to forbid restaurants from offering a free toy with meals that contain more than 600 calories. This move is the city’s attempt to tackle the country’s growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

The city’s new nutritional standards will require food and beverages to contain fewer than 600 calories, and less than 35 percent of total calories will come from fat. Restaurants will also be required to provide fruits and vegetables with all meals for children that come with toys. The meal must contain half a cup of fruit and three-fourths cup of vegetables, and offer less than 640 milligrams of sodium and less than 0.5 milligrams of trans fat. Breakfast will have the option of offering half cups of fruit or vegetables.

The ordinance is scheduled to take effect December 2011.

CNN reports today that San Francisco’s mayor plans to veto the city’s ban and release a report outlining the city’s efforts to combat childhood obesity.

San Francisco’s Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the measure, cited the study Evaluating Fast Food Nutrition and Marketing to Youth, which was released this week by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. According to the study, which examines 12 popular restaurant chains, only 12 out of more than 3,000 kids’ meal combinations met the nutritional guidelines for preschool-aged kids.

The study reports that the fast food industry spent $4.2 billion on advertising in 2009 and found that 40 percent of preschool-aged children ask to go to McDonald’s on a weekly basis, and 15 percent ask on a daily basis. The study also reports that 84 percent of parents say they’ve taken their children to eat fast food at least once in the past week.

As you can guess the ban in San Francisco has created a firestorm of debates. Some argue parents should be able to make their own decisions without government interference, while others argue that childhood obesity is becoming a serious problem in America and moves like this only help combat this problem.

I personally think back to my purchase for Noah and I wonder if I made the right decision.  I’m heading to North Carolina again next weekend to celebrate Noah’s first birthday. Now, I can’t say I won’t buy him a Happy Meal (just being honest here).  After all, I loved them as a kid and I do want him to have the same fun childhood memories. However, I will think twice and consider healthier options.

What do you think about San Francisco’s move to ban fast food meals for kids with a high calorie count? Do you think other cities will follow suit?

This entry was posted on Friday, November 12th, 2010 at 2:22 pm and is filed under Public Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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