New York City to consider banning fast-food toys

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several New York City council members unveiled a bid on Tuesday to ban toy giveaways in fast-food restaurant meals for children, emulating a San Francisco city law that will be enforced later this year.

City Council Deputy Majority Leader Leroy Comrie, who plans to introduce the bill on Wednesday, said banning toy giveaways would reduce the allure of fast-food restaurants for children and encourage the industry to provide healthier options.

“While I recognize that ensuring children have access to, and eat more, nutritious meals is ultimately the responsibility of their caretakers, the City Council can empower parents by making it harder for the fast food industry to target children with predatory marketing techniques,” he said in a statement.

A similar law was approved in San Francisco late last year and is due to go into effect on December 1.

Opponents of these moves 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.

Mason Smoot, vice president and general manager for McDonald’s New York region, said taking away toys from children’s meals would not solve childhood obesity.

“On average, kids eat at McDonald’s about three times a month; that means about 87 other meals are eaten at home, school or elsewhere. That adds up to a discussion larger than toys,” Smoot said in a statement.

“We provide options for our customers and trust them to make the decisions that are right for their families. Politicians should too,” he said.

The $184 billion fast-food industry has recently won some praise for allowing parents to get milk and apples instead of soda and French fries in kids’ meals.

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.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already promoted health measures, including a campaign to cut down on salt and a ban on trans fats in restaurant food, and a requirement that chain restaurants display calorie counts.

Bloomberg and New York Governor David Paterson have also asked the U.S. government to ban the purchase of soda pop and sweetened fruit drinks with the federal vouchers used by 42 million low-income Americans to buy food.

In 2003 the city banned smoking in bars and restaurants, generating howls of protest at the time from smokers and non-smokers who saw it as a case of government creeping into private lives, but the law has since become widely accepted.

A spokeswoman for Bloomberg declined to comment on the proposal to ban toy giveaways in restaurant children’s meals, but said the mayor’s health initiatives were focused on providing consumers with information.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jerry Norton)

New York City to consider banning fast-food toys