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Toy Story



There’s good news on the fast food toy front. 
A Northern California county’s groundbreaking ordinance prohibiting fast-food outlets from giving away toys with meals that do not meet nutrition standards appears to be working.

New research finds that the Santa Clara County ordinance led to chains increasing promotion of healthier dishes and decreasing toy giveaways. But the study released last week by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also shows that the Santa Clara County law did not prompt restaurants to make their children’s meals healthier.

Lead researcher Jennifer Otten tells The Inside Track that this isn’t surprising, since chains rarely switch up their dishes to begin with.

“Fast food restaurants change their environments, promotions and marketing regularly,” Otten says. “But their menus tend to stay the same or have fewer changes. Given that this preliminary analysis only reported on the first four months after the legislation was implemented (and restaurants only had about 90 days to comply with the legislation after it was passed) I think this order makes sense.”
The research comes at a time when more local leaders are looking to enact similar legislation as part of their efforts to curb childhood obesity in their communities. San Francisco enacted a similar ordinance last week, which notably prompted McDonald’s to charge 10 cents for its “Happy Meal” toys.
But Santa Clara County remains the model in this effort. 
Otten’s report, “Food Marketing to Children Through Toys: Response of Restaurants to the First U.S. Toy Ordinance,” compared four fast-food chain restaurants located in the ordinance-affected area to the same chains located nearby (but not affected by the regulation).  Otten and her team looked at how the August 2010 law affected restaurant practices in July, August and November 2010.
While the chains effected by the ban increased their promotion of healthy dishes and cut the number of free toys included with kids meals, minimal changes were made at the nearby locations. 
Notably, the fast food restaurants aren’t named in the study. “The goal of the research was to measure the outcomes across a particular class of restaurants — fast food outlets — known to heavily market toys to children. We were not attempting to compare chains,” Otten explains.
With the initial study now complete, Otten and her team are preparing to unveil additional research from Santa Clara County, looking at how the restaurants respond long-term. The researchers surveyed almost 900 families before and after the ordinance took effect to see whether it affected their fast food purchases, Otten says. 
Full disclosure: The study was funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) through its national program Healthy Eating Research. is a project of RWJF.