In an effort to enforce nutritional standards, Santa Clara County has banned restaurants from including toys in children’s meals that fail to meet the municipality’s requirements.

The ban is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. It includes both single food items and meals that contain excessive calories (more than 200 calories for a single food item and 485 calories for a meal); excessive sodium (480 mg for a single food item or more than 600 mg for a meal); excessive fat (more than 35 percent of total calories from fat, with exceptions for nuts, seeds, peanut butter, cheese, and individually served eggs); excessive saturated fat (more than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fats, again with similar exceptions for nuts, cheese, and eggs); excessive sugars (more than 10 percent of calories from added caloric sweeteners); or more than 0.5 g of trans-fat.

Beverages are also included – a drink with more than 120 calories, more than 35 percent of total calories from fat, greater than 10 percent of its calories from added caloric sweeteners, or that contains added non-nutritive sweeteners or caffeine cannot be linked with a toy.

President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Ken Yeager, who proposed the ban, said the toys in kids’ meals are contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic by encouraging children to eat unhealthful, fattening foods. “This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children’s love of toys” to sell food, Yeager said. “This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes.”

The Board voted 3 to 2 in favor of the ban. Supervisor Donald Gage voted against the measure. “If you can’t control a 3-year-old child for a toy, God save you when they get to be teenagers,” he said.

The ban won’t take effect for 90 days, a period the Board said could give the fast food industry time to come up with a voluntary program to improve the nutritional value of children’s meals. Enforcement of the ordinance would be provided by the health department, with a $250 fine for the first violation, $500 for the second violation, and up to $1,000 per violation for subsequent violations.

To read the ordinance, click here.

Why it matters: In practical terms, the ban will have limited effect – it applies to roughly a dozen fast food restaurants in the unincorporated sections of the county. But the buzz surrounding the measure could lead other cities and counties to consider similar action. Santa Clara was one of the first municipalities that required restaurants to post nutritional information on menus, and the Board has indicated it hopes this ban will have a similar ripple effect across the country.