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New York City lawmaker proposes fast-food toy ban

By Jordana Ossad, CNN
  • Councilman wants children's meals to be healthier
  • "The fast food industry is a major culprit" in childhood obesity, Comrie says
  • McDonald's defends Happy Meals

New York (CNN) -- A city lawmaker has proposed a bill that would ban fast-food restaurant gimmicks that include children's toys, like the McDonald's Happy Meal, unless the meal meets certain nutritional standards.

New York Councilman Leroy Comrie said Wednesday that the measure would limit the restaurants' ability to "target and lure in the most vulnerable members of our society," arguing that it is intended to battle childhood obesity. The bill follows a similar measure in San Francisco that will take effect December 1 and was considered the first of its kind for a major American City.

"While the epidemic is primarily the parent's responsibility, make no mistake, the fast food industry is a major culprit and part of the problem," Comrie said.

He called the toys "incentive items," which are "more important to the children than the meal itself."

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This is a direct issue for lower-income and communities of color because they "often have limited access to grocery stores/supermarkets and increased access to fast food stores," Comrie said.

The list of nutritional standards would include a 500-calorie threshold, require a half-cup of fruit or vegetables, and impose fines for continued violations.

But some parents say the bill is too restrictive.

"I feel that it is the parent's decision of whether they want to give a child a Happy Meal or not and it really shouldn't involve a councilman," said Alison Gartner, a mother of two from New York City.

New York mother Victoria Fidel said her 3-year-old daughter Anna would be disappointed without her customary toy. "I think she would be a little upset."

McDonald's Vice President and General Manager Mason Smoot said the company offers a "nutritionally balanced Happy Meal" and as "a bonus, kids get a safe, fun toy to enjoy. ... We provide options for our customers and trust them to make the decisions that are right for their families. Politicians should too," he said in a written statement.

Lawmakers are expected to hold a hearing about the proposed measure in the coming months.