Santa Clara Co. supes ban toys in kids' meals

April 27, 2010 5:33:34 PM PDT
A first-of-its kind attempt anywhere in the country to keep kids from eating too much fast food is happening in Santa Clara County, where supervisors voted Tuesday to prevent restaurants from using toys to entice kids to eat fast food.

The topic is a controversial one in Santa Clara County. Hundreds of people attended Tuesday's supervisors' meeting where the main topic of interest was toys. The ordinance passed applies to all the restaurants in unincorporated Santa Clara County, but it specifically targets fast food franchises.

"You should be ashamed of yourself for trying to deprive little children of a toy," one woman told the supervisors.

The law is directed at toys like the ones found in Happy Meals and other kid's menus, enticements that critics say lead children to feast on fried, fatty fast foods. But, should the county tell parents what their kids should eat?

Fast food restaurant owners said no.

"I don't believe the county should be substituting its judgment for the judgment of the parents in making this decision," said McDonald's franchise owner Stacey Henley.

Other fast food executives told supervisors they were already promoting healthy choices for kids like salads, apple juice and low-fat milk.

"The popular Shrek figure, we'll be using him to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables," said McDonald's executive Harlon Leavy.

Burger King franchise owner Steven Group objected to more government saying, "Please don't lay additional regulations on top of my business."

The California Restaurant Association says its poll shows 87 percent of county residents oppose the bill. Most people at the meeting did as well. Supporters cited studies which show that one-in-four children in the county are overweight or obese. They said the toys are magnets that attract youngsters to unhealthy food.

Saratoga Mayor Kathleen King has five children. "It starts with, 'I'm hungry,' and then it goes to what the toy looks like, so I know exactly where it's going," she said.

The vote was close, passing only 3-2. Afterwards, the bill's sponsor, Supervisor Ken Yeager noted that the board had made history saying, "This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes."

The ordinance takes effect 90 days after the second reading of the bill which is set to take place on May 11. The 90-day grace period was given so restaurant owners would have a chance to come up with a plan of their own to satisfy the supervisors.

The ordinance allows fines of up to $1,000, enforceable by the Health Department.


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