McDonald’s last week introduced a healthier Happy Meal offering a choice of apple slices, low-fat milk and a smaller portion of french fries. City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who has been trying to prevent fast food chains from marketing high calorie meals to children, praised the move as a step in the right direction.
The lawmaker joined Mickey D’s officials at one of the chain’s locations in Cambria Heights last Wednesday, where pre-K pupils from the Montessori Progressive Learning Center sampled the new items.
“As someone who knows too well the unhealthy effects and challengesof obesity, I have committed to trying to improve access to healthy food in my community where fast food restaurants outnumber supermarkets and produce stores10 to 1,” Comrie, who has had his own struggles with weight, said in a prepared statement.
In April, Comrie introduced legislation, known as Int. 530, which would ban fast food restaurants from giving away toys with kids’ meals unless they meet certain nutritional requirements. It is supported by fellow Queens City Councilmembers Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), and it was referred to committee on April 6.
Those who violate the provisions prescribed in the legislation would be fined between $200 and $500 for the first infraction, between $500 and $1,000 for the second and between $1,000 and $2,000 for the third and every one thereafter.
In 2006, the fast food industry spent $520 million on advertising that targeted children and $360 million on toy giveaways and sold $1.2 billion meals that included toys, according to Comrie.
“McDonald’s reached out to me a couple of times during the year and during the summer to tell me about their nutritional plans and their plans to improve and lower the sodium content in their food,” he said. “Also, they said they are working to improve the happy meals to create choice, so they have really been responding to the pressure.”
McDonald’s “Commitment to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices” initiative includes placing produce or low-fat dairy options with every Happy Meal; promoting nutrition and an active lifestyle in its national kids’ communications including merchandising, advertising and packaging; reducing added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes by 2020; and reducing sodium by an average of 15 percent across its menu by 2015.
Comrie came under fire for his fatty foods crusade due to his own weight. However, despite knowing he would be a media target Comrie moved forward because of his strong desire to help children stay healthy and learn nutritional values that they could carry with them to adulthood.
“Targeted is putting it simply. I was attacked,” Comrie said. “But that’s life as an elected official. You can’t expect to be involved and speak out on things and not get heat sometimes. It was important to get the message out and raise awareness and let them know that we were serious about changing patterns.”
Comrie said he also plans to hold a City Council hearing later this fall on nutrition and the effects of certain foods on children.
“Any attempt to create a healthier situation for our young people should be applauded,” said Community Board 13 District Manager Larry McClean, who attended Comrie’s event at McDonald’s. “The fact that Councilman Comrie, who was the subject of a lot of jokes regarding his initiative, still told people ‘You don’t have to get as big as me,’ and held fast is a step towards better health for the entire community.”