San Francisco Passes a Happy-Meal Ban

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has “passed an ordinance that will require meals to meet certain nutritional guidelines if restaurants wish to include a toy with the food purchase.” Meals with toys must meet nutritional requirements with respect to fruit, vegetable and multigrain content. The ordinance passed by an 8-3 vote, enough of a margin to override a promised mayoral veto. Which comes first: a McDonald’s capitulation or a black market in happy meals? (HT: The Plan) [%comments]


As we learned from Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility." McDonald's could be a force for great good in this world. They could create an INCREDIBLE healthy meal for children...and give toys ONLY with those meals.

Instead, they give a toy with all Happy Meals. Unbreaded/unfried chicken nuggets and, say, apple sticks with a fresh water...yeah, I'd love my kid to eat like that.

Hey, McDonald's, use your power for good, not just sales.


But can you still include a free toy with each marijuana purchase, assuming the weed meets certain quality benchmarks?

The Quietist

Thank goodness. How did people live before there were city councilmen and women deciding what we can and cannot eat?

Svenn Diagram

Wake me when they finally immanentize the eschaton


I think that the McDonaldseses that are closest to the SF city limits are about to have an uptick in business. And spilled drinks.

I'll have the Unhappy Meal.

Does the corn syrup in beverages count as a vegetable?


TheQuietist, obviously not very well with a obesity/overweight rate rate of aout 75% in 07. First, many, many of those people will end up using government money to pay for their obesity-related health care, so the government needs to prevent as well as treat.

Also, kids are kids and can't be trusted to eat healthy things. Grown ups (life experts, of sorts) need to help them. If their parents are either idiots who don't care, or lack the time and resources due to cook because they're working 3 jobs, they obviously need the help of nutrition experts to make sure they have access to healthy food for their kids. If parents feed their kids junk and the children have health problems that follow them for years, or even forever, the "freedom" to feed your kids whatever trash you want seems pretty stupid.

As a kid who grew up on McDonalds due to an overworked single parent and had all the weight and health problems that follows, I wish a councilman had been doing something to protect me.



@ The Quietist

Right, instead you have a huge multinational corporation deciding what millions of children eat.

It doesn't have to be an either or solution. McDonald's uses cheap toys to profit on the degrading health of America's children.

Do their parents have a responsibility in this? Certainly, but that doesn't eliminate McDonald's responsibility as well.

Robert Sharpe

I wonder how far one city's ordinance can affect positive change in a large corporation.

That being said I appreciate local government working for the actual good of their constituents and I'm especially appreciative of politicians enacting change to help those with no voting power (the children.)


@The Quietist, they lived well.


@UnhappyMeal, you must not have heard... it's called "corn sugar" now.

Eric M. Jones

BTW, San Francisco is rated #3 healthiest US city, with San Jose (close by) #1.

If you've ever walked around SF you'll know why. Most people have a butt that looks like stair-stepper-addicts gone wild.


How about a bag of "Freakonomics swag" for the first poster to correctly identify ten likely unintended consequences of this nanny state ordinance.


Ah, the conundrum of the democrats: if you treat people like they are too stupid to be trusted to make their own decisions at McDonalds, then why do we let them have a vote in political elections?


Excellent -- this is a terrific research opportunity.

Anthropologists, economists, public health researchers,and food industry trade bodies should launch a longitudinal study examining the potential impact of such localized legislation.

Primary funding should come from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, with additional funding from California state agencies, and federal sources. (But no industry or activist group money -- either would fatally infect the credibility of the research findings.)

First, a baseline should be established, prior to the law's implementation, regarding the prevalence and incidence of the relevant childhood diseases (obesity, diabetes, etc), as well as reliable data on food consumption habits, use of medical and public health services, and other relevant variables.

These data need to com from a broad sample that is both statistically significant, as well as representative of the greater San Francisco area.

Control groups could easily come from either outside the San Francisco city limits (and therefore unaffected by this proposed legislation), or a similarly sized city with comparable demographics.

The food industry's role would be to provide actual sales data. Yes, there would need to be some protection against disclosure of confidential same-store sales data.

Once the legisation goes into effect, the study would need to continue tracking the individuals involved in the study, for a period of time that would be sufficiently long enough to draw meaningful conclusions about short, medium, and long term effects.

The value of such a study would be to document the long term health effects of individual dietary choices in a controlled, scientific way. These individualized choices, when aggregated over a significant population size, are precisely what makes the term "public health" relevant.

In short, a longitudinal study that quantifies how much influence a food industry products have on an individual's food choices would go a long way toward understanding what policy interventions are effective in helping improve public health.



That's an easy fix, they sell a Kid's Value Meal and charge extra for the toy...

Kevin W.

They just need to sell the toys for an extra $0.25 with any purchase. Do you really think they won't find a way around this?

Craig K

Anyone with common sense knows that fast food is generally not healthy. We don't need a law banning Happy Meals. We need parents who take an interest in what their kids' eat. I do realize that there are some people out there who rely on the government to raise their kids. But don't punish everyone else because of them. The role of government has gotten way out of hand, and as you have seen in the midterm elections across the country, America has had enough.

A normal guy

I am glad that tofu and vegetables will save kids from the evil Happy meal. The cure for obesity... fatness... laziness... etc... is work. Make these kids work instead of watching tv and playing video games. The problem is lazy "parents" who are tied to jobs and social life, and are not really parents except through genetics. Oh well, SF is pretty misguided anyway so I guess this is no surprise.... most of you can't even figure out the most simple of human interactions.


Worth noting that unlike the assumption used by the title of this post and several of the posters, they are not banning Happy Meals. They will still be available for purchase. If you haven't kept up, Happy Meals now contain a variety of options (e.g. you can get apples or french fries). This ordinance just provides an incentive for parents and kids to choose the healthier version of the Happy Meal.

Hmmm...using incentives for good, where have I heard this idea before?

Currently the incentive structure of McDonalds (and I assume other similar restaurants) is geared towards the purchase of the unhealthy alternatives. They contain a variety of ingredients that while tasty are also addicting.

After all this talk of McDonalds...I think I'll go buy a sausage McMuffin.