New York, NY– Kids’ meals that include toys as incentives would meet specific nutritional standards under a City Council “Healthy Happy Meals” bill to be introduced today. The bill, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos and co-sponsored by Council Members Stephen Levin and Corey Johnson and originally introduced by former Council Member Leroy Comrie in 2011, sets standards for the calories, sodium and fat of the incentivized restaurant meals and would require the inclusion of a fruit, vegetable or whole grain serving.
According to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report, the fast food industry spent $714 million in 2009 on advertising to children, with nearly half on toys. The money has a clear effect: the report confirms so-called “pester power”—the ability children have to direct family food choices.
According to The New York City Department of Health, half of elementary school children are overweight, while one fifth of kindergarten students and one fourth of head start students are obese. One fourth of children’s calories come from restaurant or fast food meals, according to the USDA publication Amber Waves, an amount that makes a clear impact on a child’s overall health.
A meal to meet the health standards would include:
- 500 calories or less;
- Fewer than 35% of calories from fat;
- Fewer than 10% of calories from saturated fats;
- Fewer than 10% of calories from added sugars and fewer than 600 mgs of sodium; and
- A serving of fruit, vegetable or whole grains.
“In New York City, the high rates of obesity prevent our children from having a fair start. We have the power to help: An estimated one fourth of a child’s meals come from restaurants or fast food places. These could be healthy calories. It is difficult enough for parents to give their children healthy food without the fast food industry spending hundreds of million dollars per year advertising to children, and nearly half of that on toys," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "If restaurants are going to incentivize children, they should incentivize them to eat healthy."
“Healthy meals equals a healthy future for our children,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Our children deserve healthy meals and this legislation will make sure that they meet important nutritional standards. Thanks to Council Member Kallos for introducing this legislation.”
“Children’s meals at fast food restaurants are often unhealthy, yet they come with a toy. We should not be incentivizing unhealthy food when kids are not ready to make healthy choices,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Health. “It is paramount to teach our children early on that making nutritious choices is important, and as they grow older, they will realize that the toy isn’t what matters, it’s about being healthy.”
“Our children are constantly being incentivized to make unhealthy food choices and as a result they are increasingly being diagnosed with health issues, such as obesity,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, author of companion senate bill S937. “Similar to Council Member Kallos, one of my legislative priorities in the State Senate has been to set statewide nutritional standards for meals that are accompanied by a toy. Children are in the process of developing the habits that will affect the rest of their lives and I am pleased that this legislation aims to set standards that will encourage our City’s children to make healthy food choices without any misguided influence."
"I am pleased to see Council Member Kallos and the City Council, continuing the efforts to ensure better nutritional value in fast food for our children,” said former Council Member Leroy Comrie.
“Parents in New York City are fighting hard for the welfare of our kids,” stated Dr. Tara Narula MD, FACC – member of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association NYC Advocacy Committee and Associate Director of the Cardiac Care Unit at Lenox Hill Hospital/North Shore LIJ. “We fight for the best schools, the best programs, the best environment. What we shouldn’t have to fight so hard for is healthy food in our restaurants. As obesity remains a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, restaurants should make it easier for us, as parents, to offer healthy, nutritious meals to our children. The healthiest option – one comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables and little unhealthy fat, sugar and salt – should always be the default option. Unhealthy foods should be limited in their accessibility so that it’s easier for our kids to grow into heart-healthy adults.”
“For far too long, fast-food chains such as Wendy’s and Burger King have been using toy giveaways to lure children to meals of cheeseburgers, French fries, and sodas and other meals of poor nutritional quality. This is a practice that is meant to exploit the cognitive immaturity of children and make parents’ job harder. And over 95% of kids’ meals at the top chain restaurants are unhealthy. Parents have the ultimate responsibility to feed their children healthy diets. It’s a hard enough job without fast-food marketers undermining them,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest Nutrition Policy Director Margo Wooten. “It’s to New York City Councilmember Ben Kallos’ great credit that a solution to this particular problem is now at hand. His sensible legislation sets reasonable nutrition standards for those meals that use toys or other incentives to attract children.”
"Citizens’ Committee for Children is grateful to Council Member Kallos for his commitment to making children’s meals healthier and to making NYC a leader in the fight against childhood obesity. We look forward to working together to ensure the “Healthy Happy Meals” bill is passed so that the meals that children eat are more nutritious," said Stephanie Gendell Associate Executive Director, Policy and Government Relations for the Citizens’ Committee for Children.