Healthier Happy Meals

'Healthy Happy Meals' bill in New York City could make kids' meals healthier

Fast-food companies have long used toys to sell kids' meals. But a new law may soon turn the tables.

New York City Council Member Benjamin J. Kallos recently proposed the "Healthy Happy Meals" bill to improve the nutritional value of NYC kids' meals by reducing calories, fat and salt.

If passed, the new law will require kids’ meals that use toys or promotional items to include a serving of fruits, vegetables or whole grains. The meals would also have to be 500 calories or less and contain less than 10 percent saturated fat, less than 10 percent added sugars and less than 600 milligrams of salt.

A new study from New York University (NYU) College of Global Public Health, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Policy and NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development looked at the law’s potential health impact on child nutrition and the number of children who would be reached.

"Passing the bill could be a step in the right direction, though no single policy can singlehandedly eliminate childhood obesity," said lead study author Brian Elbel, PhD, an associate professor of population health at NYU, in a press release.

Dr. Elbel and team looked at Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s receipts from 358 adults, collected between 2012 and 2013.These receipts included meal purchases for 422 children.

An average of 600 calories were purchased for each child, with 36 percent of those calories coming from fat.

According to these researchers, 98 percent of the kids’ meals purchased would not be permitted under the new law.

If restaurants abide by the new law and parents continue to buy kids’ meals, the result would be a 9 percent drop in calories and a 10 percent drop in both salt and calories from fat.

"The policy's effectiveness will depend on whether the food industry attempts to neutralize it through marketing or other strategies," said study co-author Marie Bragg, PhD, an assistant professor in population health at NYU, in the release. "Policymakers could consider broader restrictions on marketing, similar to legislation in Chile that banned any use of toy premiums in children's meals in 2012.”

This study was published Aug. 31 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the New York State Health Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.