November 12, 2010 / 10:00 PM / 8 years ago

San Francisco mayor to veto curb on fast-food toys

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to veto a new city law that would curb toy giveaways in unhealthy restaurant meals for children, but the move would be symbolic since it was approved in a veto-proof vote.

Two McDonald's Happy Meal with toy watches fashioned after the characters Donkey and Puss in Boots from the movie "Shrek Forever After" are pictured in Los Angeles June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The law is slated to go into effect on December 1, 2011 and, like an ordinance passed earlier this year in nearby Santa Clara County, will require that restaurant kids’ meals meet certain nutritional standards before they could be sold with toys.

Opponents of the law include the National Restaurant Association and McDonald’s Corp, which used its now wildly popular Happy Meal to pioneer the use of free toys to market directly to children.

“We must continue pursuing real strategies against childhood obesity, but this legislation takes an intrusive and ineffective approach. Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat, especially when it comes to spending their own money,” Newsom, who was elected California’s lieutenant governor on November 2, said in a statement.

San Francisco’s law has gotten national attention and comes as public health officials, parents and other groups have grown frustrated with what they say are weak anti-obesity efforts on the part of the restaurant industry.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors earlier this week passed the legislation with a supermajority vote of 8 to 3.

“We expect the same 8 to 3 vote to override Mayor Newsom’s proposed veto,” said Eric Mar, the supervisor who sponsored the legislation.

Mar said he supports Newsom’s commitment to healthy eating and active living in San Francisco, but was surprised that the mayor intends to veto the law.

“As a city, we need to do more,” Mar said. “The dollars spent by the fast food industry far outnumber any resources that we as a city could spend on outreach and education.”

The $184 billion fast-food industry has recently won kudos for allowing parents to swap milk for soda and apples for French fries in kids’ meals. But new research showed that the industry also has been stepping up efforts to market itself to children and toddlers.

Researchers at the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity in Connecticut found that the fast-food industry spent more than $4.2 billion in 2009 on marketing and advertising on television, the Internet, social media sites and mobile applications.

Among other things, the researchers said preschoolers see 21 percent more fast-food ads on television than they saw in 2003, and somewhat older children see 34 percent more.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says two-thirds of American adults and 15 percent of children are overweight or obese. In some states, the childhood obesity rate is above 30 percent.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Dan Whitcomb, Bernard Orr

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