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Thursday, December 9, 2010

San Francisco bans toys in McDonald’s “happy meals”

It is official: a ban in California’s Santa Clara County and effective December 2011 in the city of San Francisco, will prohibit restaurants from offering a free toy or prize with meals that exceed 600 calories, 650 mgs of sodium, and fat levels exceeding 35% of total calories. All meals (except breakfast) must also contain a half-cup of vegetables and fruit.

“It’s only going to pick up steam,” said Ken Yeager, the Santa Clara County supervisor who introduced the ban. “The fast-food chains must realize that the tide has turned.” Yeager says that officials in New York, Chicago, and Orange County have contacted him about possible measures of their own.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is preparing a case against McDonald’s that would further ban the use of toys to market Happy Meals. As CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner said, the suit claims such marketing is illegal under various state consumer protection laws irrespective of the alleged health risks.

Dr. Grout’s comment:

Interesting move. McDonalds has been very cautious in responding to this. A company spokeswoman said, “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.” Certainly many people feel that this is an over-reach by the “nanny state.” And it may be.

But it begs the question: How do we intervene in the CDC projection that 1 in 3 people will have diabetes by the year 2050 unless something is done to curb unhealthy lifestyle trends in the United States? Nearly 1 in 5 youngsters is now obese. More than 50% of children will suffer from chronic health diseases in their childhood ranging from ADHD and asthma to obesity and diabetes, according to a JAMA February 17, 2010 article. Children can't change their exercise and eating habits by themselves. They need their families to set the example. Chef Jamie Oliver applauded the ban. He told CNN the job of the nanny is to take care of the child. The government already makes tobacco and alcohol off limits from kids because those products are not healthy. The FDA is gearing up to ban the addition of caffeine in alcoholic beverages like Four Loko because “the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.” So too does a lot of the food sold today.

What concerns me is how we decide what good food is. The subject is fraught with politics – everything from special interests designing the USDA food pyramid and farming laws that favor large corporate agriculture, to soda manufacturers “partnering” with dietary associations to develop nutrition guidelines and industry-sponsored studies that amazingly find no fault with chemical additives like synthetic sugars and high fructose corn syrup.

This new ban says suggests fat levels should not exceed 35% of total calories. Where is that written? Remember in the 1980s how pasta and starchy crabs were heavily promoted? All that did was sell a lot of pasta makers and spike everyone’s insulin levels. Now the mainstream news delivers much better information about carbs, that those kinds of carbs are the bad carbs and veggies are the good carbs. But we are still being fed bad information about fats. The old dogma is that eating fat makes you fat. Wrong. There are bad fats including soy and corn and most other cheap vegetable oils, and any fat that has been re-heated and used over and over to fry foods in a fast-food joint. There are good fats including butter, grass fed meats, fish oil, nuts, lard, and unrefined coconut and olive oil. Pervasive lobbying from special interest groups still clouds that picture for many.

Good fats are the prescription for providing energy, making strong cell membranes, making hormones, and eating in moderation. Without fat at the table, your body has trouble absorbing the vitamins and minerals from the veggies on your plate. Without fat, you don't feel full and stop eating. Eating hamburger from cows or buffaloes raised organically on grass is a good quality fat; a fast food hamburger from a cow fed hormones, steroids, genetically modified corn and then positioned between two refined pieces of bread, slathered in hydrogenated vegetable oils masquerading as mayonnaise and high fructose corn syrup masquerading as a catsup, is not. Eating truly unprocessed coconut oil may even help you lose weight. Eating a salad with the typical manufactured salad dressing made of vegetable oils will likely pack on the pounds. Many native people ate a diet that was considerably more than 35 percent fat – but it was good fat.

Let’s start improving the discussion about fat.

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