Toy ban should spark participation in obesity solution

It may not be surprising to most that health nut city San Francisco became the first major hub to ban toys in children's meals that don't meet nutritional guidelines, a.k.a. McDonald's Happy Meals.

It may not be surprising to most that health nut city San Francisco became the first major hub to ban toys in children's meals that don't meet nutritional guidelines, a.k.a. McDonald's Happy Meals. But it is an indication that, despite the inspiration behind this kind of movement, big fast food companies, for their own sake, need to be more proactive in helping to find a solution for US childhood obesity and be more vocal about their existing efforts.

Despite the company's efforts over the years – one example is in 2004, it added apples to its menu, swapped dark meat chicken for white meat, and introduced newly packaged milk containers – today's health advocates are intent on making an example of someone, and why not one of the most globally recognizable fast food brands.

Nutrition advocates can point out that a six-piece chicken nugget meal with apple slices is not that far off nutritionally from a turkey sandwich with mayonnaise, cheese, and lemonade. But until McDonald's and other restaurants and food organizations better arm themselves with nutritional messages tweaked for each market, and better educate consumers about their current nutritional offerings and product information, their past and current efforts will go unseen.

Will it be nutritionally productive for cities like San Francisco to dictate what a parent feeds her child? Probably not, especially since moms aren't bringing their children to McDonald's every day. For a real, collaborative solution, consumer communication needs to go beyond calorie counts on tray liners, and beyond promoting the ability to customize a cheeseburger meal so that it has apples instead of fries.  

Nutritional information such as calorie counts may not even be meaningful to moms in specific markets with a low rate of education.

Though the story will surely evolve as the city implements the ruling and the mayor appeals, the company's message should at some point evolve beyond the product to become part of a private-public nutritional education effort.

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