McDonald’s Skirts Ban; Charges 10 Cents Per Happy Meal Toy

A ban against toy giveaways with high-fat meals doesn’t seem to have fazed San Francisco McDonald’s franchise owners. They’ve found a way to circumvent it.

Instead of doing away with the small Happy Meal toys that usually come free with each Happy Meal purchased, San Francisco  McDonald’s owners will now charge 10 cents for the trinket. They say the extra money will go toward the Ronald McDonald House, a McDonald’s charity that supports sick children and their families.

Last fall, the city passed the Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance, which prohibits chain restaurants from giving away toys with high-fat, high-sugar food orders that do not meet San Francisco’s nutrition standards. The ruling takes effect Thursday.

Scott Rodrick, owner of 10 of the 19 McDonald’s in San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the 10 cent cost “complies with the letter of the law.

“This law is not what my customers wanted or asked for, but the law’s the law,” he told the newspaper.

Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, criticized the city government for focusing on the wrong parts of childhood obesity, saying that the ordinance is really about politics, not nutrition.

“It’s misguided to think that this is going to combat childhood obesity,” said Ayoob, who grew up in San Francisco.  “We should be focusing on school lunches, where there are a lot more calories and fat than Happy Meals, and what kids are eating at home.”

Ayoob pointed out that a Happy Meal isn’t a supersize  meal, and has much fewer calories than most other items on McDonald’s menu.

“These politicians want to be seen as childhood advocates, and they were probably feeling the pressure to do something,” said Ayoob. “But their efforts are misguided. If they really want to be seen as that, they should be doing something like mandating physical education for all grades in the school system.”

But Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center, supports the toy ban, saying that the toys and the trinkets “clearly goad children to prefer and request less nutritional meals.”

He said the 10-cent charge shifts the toy, and less nutritious meals, from default mode and into parental decision-making.

Some argue that the ban smacks of  “nanny politics,” the Chronicle reported.

“We should not be nannies, but we should not be ninnies either,” said Katz. “McDonald’s puts toys in those meals because well-paid executives have advised them that doing so would drive demand and sales. Parents need to exercise responsibility, but the defaults in our culture should not conspire against the weight and health of kids. No reason to make the job tougher than it already is.”