The California county that helped lead the national push for menu labeling has reportedly approved an ordinance (NS-300-820) that would prohibit restaurants from using “incentive items” to promote meals deemed high in calories, salt or fat. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors apparently voted 3-2 on April 27, 2010, to set nutritional standards for restaurant food that comes with such giveaways as toys, games, trading cards, admission tickets, or any other consumer product, “whether physical or digital.”

The measure declares that restaurants cannot link incentives to (i) meals that exceed 485 calories or 600 milligrams (mg) sodium; (ii) single food items that exceed 200 calories or 480 mg sodium; or (iii) beverages that contain caffeine, added nonnutritive sweeteners or more than 120 calories, or derive more than 35 percent of their total calories from fat or 10 percent from added caloric sweeteners. In addition, meals or food items offering incentives cannot contain more than 0.5 grams trans fat, 35 percent fat content, 10 percent saturated fat content, or 10 percent sugar content derived from added caloric sweeteners.

The ordinance applies to all establishments located in unincorporated parts of the county, including San Martin, Stanford University, and San Jose’s Burbank and Cambrian neighborhoods. It also imposes fines that could reach as high as $1,000 per violation. “This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy foods and prizes,” Supervisor Ken Yeager was quoted as saying. “Obviously, toys in and of themselves do not make children obese. But it is unfair to parents and children to use toys to capture the tastes of children when they are young and get them hooked on eating high-sugar, high-fat foods early in life.”

Meanwhile, the California Restaurant Association has publicly criticized the initiative as unnecessary and difficult to enforce. “If the point is to get a dialogue going with the industry about health, that dialogue is already going,” an association spokesperson told media outlets. “If the point is to solve childhood obesity, taking away a toy isn’t going to help.” See Appetite for Profit, The San Francisco Chronicle, and San Jose Mercury News, April 28, 2010.