According to a new study from researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, legislation to raise the nutritional value of fast food restaurant meals marketed to children, such as McDonald’s Happy Meals, could have a wide enough impact to reduce calories, fat, and sodium.
Proposed by New York City Council member Benjamin J. Kallos, the so-called “Healthy Happy Meals” Bill, proposed by New York City Council member Benjamin J. Kallos, would require that fast food meals marketed to kids using toys or other promotional items include a serving of fruit, vegetables or whole grain.
The meals would also be limited to 500 calories or less, with fewer than 35 percent of calories coming from fat, fewer than 10 percent coming from saturated fat, fewer than 10 percent from added sugars, and fewer than 600 milligrams of sodium. The bill is currently being considered by the City Council, and is similar to legislation recently enacted in California.
To figure out if the bill would actually make a public health impact on nutrition improvement and number of children reached, researchers analyzed receipts collected in 2013 and 2014 from 358 adults. The data included purchases for 422 children at multiple New York City and New Jersey locations of Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, three fast food chains that market kids’ meals.
9 Percent Less Calories
On average, adults purchased 600 calories for each child, with 36 percent of those calories coming from fat, according to the findings. Over one-third of children ordered kids’ meals, and 98 percent of kids’ meals did not meet the nutritional criteria outlined in the proposed legislation.
If kids’ meals meet the bill’s criteria and children’s orders do not shift, there would be a 9 percent drop in calories, representing 54 fewer calories, a 10 percent drop in sodium, and a 10 percent drop in percentage of calories from fat.
Brian Elbel, PhD, lead author and associate professor in the Departments of Population Health at NYU Langone and at NYU Wagner, said:
“While 54 calories at a given meal is a small reduction, small changes that affect a wide number of people can make a large impact. Passing the bill could be a step in the right direction, though no single policy can singlehandedly eliminate childhood obesity.”