Source: Elbel B, et al. Am J Prev Med. 2015;doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2015.05.030.
August 31, 2015
2 min read

‘Healthy Happy Meal’ bills could reduce children’s fat, sodium, caloric intake

Source: Elbel B, et al. Am J Prev Med. 2015;doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2015.05.030.
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A proposed NYC bill could reduce calories, sodium and calories from fat in children’s combination meals at fast food restaurant chains, according to recently published data. 

“While 54 calories at a given meal is a small reduction, smalls changes that affect a wide number of people can make a large impact. Passing the bill could be a step in the right direction, though no single policy can singlehandedly eliminate childhood obesity,” Brian Elbel, PhD, associate professor, department of population health at NYU Langone and NYU Wagner, said in a press release. 

Brian Elbel

The proposed bill aims to improve the nutritional quality of meals by requiring that fast food restaurant children’s combination meals meet specific nutritional criteria to be able to add a toy or promotional item to the meal. Meals that included a toy or promotional item would be required to include a serving of fruit, vegetable or whole grains, be limited to 500 calories, less than 35% of calories from fat, less than 10% of calories from added sugars and saturated fat, and less than 600 mg of sodium, according to a press release.

To assess the impact NYC’s “Healthy Happy Meals” bill could have on reducing children’s intake of calories, sodium and calories from fat, Elbel and colleagues analyzed data from purchase receipts collected at various NYC and NJ McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s fast food chains between 2013 and 2014.

In total, purchases for 422 children were made by 358 adults, according to the study. The mean age for children in the study was 7 years. The majority of caregivers, 87%, were either black or Hispanic.

Results demonstrated on average, approximately 600 calories worth of food and 869 mg of sodium was purchased per child. Thirty-six percent of purchased calories came from fat.

Combination meals were purchased for 35% of children. Almost all combination meals purchased, 98%, did not meet the proposed nutritional criteria. Fifty-one percent of meals exceeded calorie limits, 55% exceeded sodium levels, 78% exceeded calories from fat limits, 14% exceeded saturated fat limits and 49% exceeded added sugar limits.

According to the researchers, if NYC’s bill passes and combination meals were required to meet the proposed nutritional criteria, there would be a 9% reduction in calories, 10% reduction in sodium and a 10% reduction in calories from fat in children’s combination meals.

Marie Bragg

The researchers noted that while passing the bill would be proactive in the fight against childhood obesity, policymakers should consider broader restrictions on marketing used by fast food chains.

“The policy’s effectiveness will depend on whether the food industry attempts to neutralize it through marketing or other strategies. For example, the industry could remove children’s meals altogether, forcing children to order the larger portions from the adult menu,” Marie Bragg, PhD, assistant professor, department of population health  at NYU Langone, said in a press realease. – by Casey Hower

Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.