A bill seeking to mandate better nutritional value in fast food restaurant meals marketed to children could successfully cut calories, sodium and fat, helping to reduce childhood obesity, a recent study has found.
New York City has passed a "Healthy Happy Meals" bill introduced by New York City council member Benjamin J. Kallos that would require fast food meals sold with toys or other merchandise aimed at kids to include a serving of fruit, vegetables or a whole grain and contain no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat.
To measure what the impact on kids' diets might be, researchers at New York University's Langone Medical Center analyzed receipts from several hundred adults purchasing meals at fast food restaurants in the NYC area, to compare the purchased kids' meals to the proposed guidelines.
Ninety-eight percent of the kids' meals – from McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King restaurants – did not meet those guidelines, the researchers report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
It they did, it would result in a 9 percent drop in calories consumed by children at fast food restaurants, and consumption of sodium and calories from fat would both drop 10 percent.
On average, the kids' meals contained 600 calories with 36 percent coming from fat; under the recently passed bill, no children's meal could contain more than 500 calories.
A nine percent decrease in calories would mean a total countdown to 54 calories.
"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," said Dr. Brian Elbel, study lead author and a professor of public health at NYU. "Passing the bill could be a step in the right direction, though no single policy can singlehandedly eliminate childhood obesity."
Obesity, which is the leading cause of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, affects one out of three children and adolescents in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2009, the fast food industry spent more than $700 million marketing children's meals, a 2012 report by the Federal Trade Commission found.
Councilman Kallos said that made his bill all the more urgent.
"It is difficult enough for parents to give their children healthy food without the fast food industry spending hundreds of million dollars per year advertising to children, and nearly half of that on toys," he said in a statement. "If restaurants are going to incentivize children, they should incentivize them to eat healthy."