California city aims at Happy Meals in nutrition push: 'Food cops' or health defenders?
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Health experts, schools, parents and even First Lady Michelle Obama are working to combat childhood obesity, which means being seriously overweight and is pronounced oh-BEE-city. Now San Francisco has a new approach: Its leaders want to bar fast-food restaurants from enticing children to unhealthy food with toys or other gimmicks.
"I do believe that toys and other incentives attached to foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories are a major reason for the alarming rise for childhood obesity," says Supervisor Eric Mar -- father of a fifth-grade daughter -- who proposed the law. The board, which has enough votes to bypass a threatened mayoral veto, is expected to formally approve the measure in a final reading this Tuesday, Nov. 9. Mar and others hope the measure, first of its kind for a big city, spurs similar standards across the country. "It's courageous of the supervisors to put the health of the city's children above food company profits," comments Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of a book titled "Food Politics."
Critics say the move undercuts business rights and parents' ability to make choices for their families. "Someone doesn't have to travel very far -- a mile outside San Francisco -- to get the traditional McDonald's Happy Meals experience," complains Scott Rodrick, owner-operator of 10 McDonald's restaurants in the city. A California Restaurant Association representative says: "It's insulting to parents and it's more generating headlines than trimming waist lines. There's been absolutely no proof that this will impact the way people eat."
Backer says: "We're part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice." -- Eric Mar, San Francisco board sponsor of the new policy
Critic says: "When George Orwell wrote about government control in his novel 1984, McDonald's hadn't even invented the Happy Meal yet. . . . Supervisor Eric Mar's own words could have come straight from Orwell's pen." -- Luanne Hays, teacher from Red Oak, Texas, guest-blogging in Dallas Morning News
McDonald's says: "Parents tell us it's their right and responsibility -- not the government's -- to make their own decisions and to choose what's right for their children." -- Danya Proud, corporate spokeswoman
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