Lang Liu


On November 24, 2010, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors (hereinafter "the Board") enacted an ordinance banning the bundling of toys with children's meals that do not meet specific nutritional requirements. The Board faced strong public and political opposition to the passage of the ordinance, even from those that typically support anti-obesity and other public health initiatives. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed the ordinance, for "[d]espite [the ordinance's] good intentions, [he could not] support this unwise and unprecedented governmental intrusion into parental responsibilities and private choices." Ultimately, there was sufficient support on the Board to override Newsom's veto, and the ordinance passed. Though the Board won the political fight over enacting the ordinance, the success of the regulation in the domain of public opinion is much less certain.

Since the ordinance was first proposed, it has drawn intensive public criticism. Its opponents perceive the regulation as an unwelcome intrusion of governmental authority into the private realms of personal responsibility and individual choice. Most vividly, the California Restaurant Association opposed the legislation through images, depicting a child with a toy in handcuffs with the headline, "Who Made Politicians the Toy Police?" This public outcry against the invasion of the "nanny state" is nothing new, yet the divisiveness over this ordinance is quite puzzling in light of its relatively narrow impact on actual consumer choices. Even with the ordinance, consumers can choose the exact same combination of food items as they would have before. The only difference is that now, if a consumer chooses an unhealthy combination meal, he or she will have to buy the toy separately. Therefore, the ordinance is more accurately characterized as creating an incentive to provide healthy children's meals, not as a ban against unhealthy children's meals, as these options are still available.