"Healthy Happy Meals"

New York City Council member Benjamin Kallos is on the right track with his proposed policy - the "Healthy Happy Meals" bill - to improve the nutritional quality of children’s combination meals at fast food restaurants by requiring meals with toys or promotional items meet specific nutritional criteria.  A 2012 USDA report makes the rationale for this abundantly clear - "Fast Food is the Major Source of Eating Out Calories for U.S. Adults and Children."  And for children ages 2-19, one-third of their daily calories came from these types of outlets.  

Specifically, the bill requires a meal meet the following health standards:

  • 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.

A study available online this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine takes a closer look at the impact this Bill will have on the nutritional quality of food purchased for children at fast food restaurants. Researchers reviewed purchases for 422 children made by 358 adults at McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's locations in New York City and New Jersey in 2013 and 2014. 

The findings, as noted here:

  • Approximately 35% of children ate a children’s combination meal. Of these children’s combination meals, 98% did not meet the proposed nutrition criteria for at least one nutrient.

  • Children averaged about 7 years old.

  • 87% of caregivers were black or Hispanic.

  • Meals averaged 600 calories, 36% of which were from fat.

  • 869 mg of sodium were purchased for each child.

  • If all children’s combination meals met the proposed criteria, there would be a 9% reduction in calories for children whose purchases included a children’s combination meal (54 calories), and a 3% reduction in calories for all children (18 calories).

  • For children whose purchases included a children’s combination meal, there would be a 10% reduction (83 mg) in sodium and a 10% reduction in the percentage of calories from fat (3 percentage points).

All in all, a small but positive step and one that should be championed not just throughout New York (and with legislation in parts of California) but across the country.

And if you're like me and need a kids' meal refresher, here is how it breaks down (click the links below):

McDonald's

Burger King

Wendy's

Wendy's first three items listed are ice cream (two kinds) and apple juice, followed by a cheeseburger.  Removing the juice alone would subtract 100 calories and 22 grams of sugar (roughly the same as SIX Oreos!). 

While the proposed bill is certainly no golden ticket out of the childhood obesity epidemic it is a much needed step, and one that will likely gain the attention of corporate leaders and fast food dietitians nationwide.