“Happy Meal” Law Would Decrease Fat, Sugar, Salt and Calories in Kids’ Meals

Brian D. Elbel, PhD, MPH Associate professor, Departments of Population Health, Division of Health and Behavior and Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine Marie Bragg, PhD Assistant professor Department of Population Health Jonathan Cantor, MS Department of Population Health, Section on Health Choice, Policy and Evaluation NYU Langone Medical Center MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Brian D. Elbel, PhD, MPH
Associate professor, Departments of Population Health, Division of Health and Behavior and Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine
Marie Bragg, PhD
Assistant professorDepartment of Population Health
Jonathan Cantor, MS
Department of Population Health, Section on Health Choice, Policy and Evaluation
NYU Langone Medical Center
 

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study?

Response: On July 17th, 2014 the New York City Council proposed the “Healthy Happy Meals” bill in an effort to improve the nutritional value of fast food restaurant meals marketed to children. The bill states a restaurant cannot offer an incentive item (i.e. a toy) in combination with the purchase of a meal unless the meal met several nutritional standards.

The meals with toys would be required to:

  • Be less than 500 hundred calories total
  • Be less than 600 milligrams of sodium total
  • Have less than 35% of total calories come from fat
  • Have less than 10% of total calories come from saturated fat
  • Have less than 10% of total calories come from added sugar
  • Contain one half cup of fruit or vegetable or one serving of whole-grain products

This study examined potential reductions in purchased calories, sodium and percentage of calories from fat that could occur among children if the policy were to go into effect.

MedicalResearch: What are the main findings?

Response: Researchers collected receipts for fast food purchases for 422 children who were accompanied by 358 adults. On average, adults purchased 600 calories for each child, with 36 percent of those calories coming from fat. One third of the children in the sample had a children’s meal, with 98% of the purchased children’s combination meals would be restricted from handing out a toy with the meal if the bill passed.

If the bill passed, there would be a 9% reduction in calories purchased for kid’s meals, the equivalent of 54 calories. Similarly, researchers found that there would be a 10% (83 mg) reduction in sodium purchased and a 10% reduction in the percentage of calories from fat purchased for children. This all assumes that children ordered what they did previously but the meals meet the nutrition criteria.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: This study was designed to help address that toys are used in promoting unhealthy kids meals, and the results show that this policy could improve children’s diets. The study demonstrates that small dietary improvements can be made with slight adjustments to children’s combination meals. Clinicians can discuss the role marketing plays in the purchase of children’s combination meals and encourage parents to avoid linking rewards like toys with unhealthy foods. Parents can play an important role by deciding to choose a healthier food item for their child or decide not to go to the fast food restaurant at all.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We suggest researchers evaluate consumer responses to these types of policies. Such policies could encourage a variety of possible outcomes. First, children may decide to order larger portions from the restaurant’s adult menu, a result that would lead to excess food consumption. An alternative outcome is that children and parents may decide to purchase their meal elsewhere (that is either healthier or less healthy than the fast food restaurant).

The current policy would be a small change for a large number of children. Although no single policy will eliminate childhood obesity, this policy could be a step in the right direction. In the future, similar policies should be considered in other municipalities.

Citation:

New York City “Healthy Happy Meals” Bill: Potential Impact on Fast Food Purchases

Brian Elbel, Tod Mijanovich, Jonathan Cantor, Marie A. Bragg

American Journal of Preventive Medicine
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2015.05.030

Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof

Published online: August 6 2015

MedicalResearch.com Interview (2015). “Happy Meal” Law Would Decrease Fat, Sugar, Salt and Calories in Kids’ Meals