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Santa Clara County votes to remove toys from salty, high-calorie fast-food kids’ meals

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In Santa Clara County, one out of every four kids is either overweight or obese. Among 2- to 5-year-olds from low-income families, the rate is one in three. The county health system spends millions of dollars a year treating kids for health problems related to obesity, and the tab is growing.

On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors took action by prohibiting fast-food restaurants from using toys to lure kids into buying unhealthy meals. The vote was 3-2.

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In order to combine trinkets with burgers, chicken nuggets or other children’s fare, a meal must meet some basic nutritional requirements. Among them:

-- No single food item can contain more than 200 calories, the drink cannot have more than 120 calories, and the entire meal cannot exceed 485 calories.

-- No single item can contain more than 480 milligrams of salt, and the entire meal is limited to 600 mg of salt.

-- No more than 35% of the calories can come from fat.

-- No more than 10% of total calories can come from added sugar.

None of McDonald’s Happy Meals meets these criteria – even those that substitute apple slices for french fries.

The ordinance must be approved at a second Board of Supervisors meeting in May. If so, restaurants will have 90 days to offer up alternative plans for squeezing fat, salt, sugar and calories out of kids’ meals. If none of the suggestions is suitable, the measure will become law for the 12 fast-food outlets in unincorporated parts of the county that are subject to the board’s jurisdiction. Violators would face a fine of up to $1,000.

Not surprisingly, the toy ban has angered folks who resent government efforts to help Americans eat healthier. The California Restaurant Assn., which represents fast-food eateries, commissioned a poll that found 80% of Santa Clara County residents opposed to the measure.

-- Karen Kaplan


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