Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Taking The ‘Happy’ Out Of McDonald’s Happy Meals?

San Francisco bans McDonald's happy meal in an effort to promote healthy food choices in children.

Happy Meal

Photo: Graham Holliday (flickr)

San Francisco banned McDonalds from selling Happy Meals that have over 600 calories and have 35% of those calories from fat.

San Francisco Bans the Happy Meal

In a veto-proof vote San Francisco’s board of supervisors have declared a ban on McDonald’s happy meals as they currently exist.

The board argues that including the incentive of a toy with meals that have high calorie and fat percentages reward children for making unhealthy food decisions. After the ordinance takes effect in December of 2011, McDonald’s restaurants in San Francisco may only include toys if their children’s meals contain less than 600 calories and if less than 35% of the calories come from fat.

Supporters praise this measure as a social change that protects children from disguised negative eating habits. With the childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics soaring, legislation that promotes healthy food decisions at young ages may have a positive impact on the country’s health.

However, critics claim that this micro-regulation of the company is out of line with the government’s power, and that parents should play the main role of protecting their children from these high-calorie meals.

This ban arrives at the same time that McDonalds reintroduced its infamous McRib sandwich, which not only comes from questionable pork sources but also is extremely unhealthy.

The McRib breakdown:

  • Calories: 500
  • Calories from fat: 240 (the sandwich is 48% made of fat!)
  • Grams of fat: 26
  • Milligrams of sodium: 980 (that’s 41% of the daily sodium intake on a 2000 calorie diet)
  • Grams of sugar: 11

Like other unhealthy food, when consumed rarely and in small quantities Happy Meals and McRib sandwiches may be an acceptable treat. However, it is the way that McDonalds rewards children for choosing this option and the energetic cult following of the McRib sandwich (the result of highly effective marketing) that worries health advocates.

Time will tell if San Francisco’s initiative to stop supporting such processed, fat-heavy food will spread to the rest of the country.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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