Unhappy meals in San Francisco

Come December, kids in San Francisco may be wondering if they got a visit from The Grinch.

On Tuesday, the city's board of supervisors handily passed a law that requires kids' meals to meet certain nutritional standards before they can be accompanied by a free toy. It goes into effect Dec. 1.

The proposal was originally introduced in August and impacts all quick-service establishments that offer meals containing too much fat, sugar or salt. Restaurants include McDonald's, Jack in the Box and Burger King.

Toy promotions would not be restricted if the meals meet specific guidlines, such as having less than 600 calories, includes fruits and vegetables, and beverages without excessive sugar or fat. Also, no single item can contain more than 480 milligrams of sodium.

Kids meals have recently come under assault from several directions. The San Francisco law is similar to one passed earlier this year in Santa Clara County. In June, the Center for Science in Public Interest threatened a lawsuit over McDonald's use of toys in its Happy Meals.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched a letter-writing crusade in August urging McDonald's to stop using Marvel comic book heroes to market its Happy Meals. Last year, the group took the same approach with Burger King for its SpongeBob SquarePants-themed Kids' Meal.

The measure's sponsor, Eric Mar, San Francisco supervisor, told Reuters the vote challenges the restaurant industry to think about children's health first, as rates of obesity in the city — especially among children of color — are "disturbingly high."

Danya Proud, McDonald's spokeswoman, said the company is extremely disappointed with the decision.

"It's not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for," she added. "Getting a toy with a kid's meal is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald's."

The McDonald's Happy Meal celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2009. According to a 2006 U.S. Federal Trade Commission Report, QSRs spent more than $520 million on marketing and toys to promote kids meals.

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