Study: Fast-Food Toy Ban Did Not Lead to Healthier Food Options

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A Santa Clara County ordinance that bans fast-food establishments from giving out toys with meals that fail to meet nutritional rules has affected how restaurants advertise but has not changed the number of healthy food options, according to a Stanford University study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Time's "Healthland" reports.

Background

In 2010, Santa Clara County became the first county in the U.S. to ban toys from being given out with meals that did not meet guidelines on calorie, fat, salt and sugar content. Officials assumed that children would be less interested in the meals after toys were eliminated (Park, "Healthland," Time, 12/8).

A similar measure took effect this month in San Francisco (Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/8).

Key Findings

For the study, researchers examined the four-month period after the Santa Clara County ordinance took effect. 

Jennifer Otten -- a postdoctoral research fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine and an author of the study -- said that the county's ordinance led affected restaurants to reduce their marketing of toys and increase their promotion of healthier meals (Hobson, "Health Blog," Wall Street Journal, 12/9).

However, researchers found that none of the restaurants added healthier food options because of the ordinance (Sulek, San Jose Mercury News, 12/8). Before the ordinance, just 4% of the children's meals met Dietary Guidelines for Americans criteria for healthy meals, according to the study. That rate did not change in the four months after the ordinance took effect ("Healthland," Time, 12/8).

Future studies will examine if restaurants implemented changes and if consumers adjusted their fast-food behaviors ("Health Blog," Wall Street Journal, 12/9).

Otten said that she hopes such ordinances ultimately will encourage restaurants to move past just changing their marketing tactics to adjusting their menus to help consumers eat healthier ("Healthland," Time, 12/8).


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