New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) has introduced a bill (S7849- 2011) that would require fast-food restaurants offering incentive items, such as toys, with children’s meals to meet certain nutritional guidelines. The standards, designed to limit the amount of fat, sugar, calories, and sodium per meal, would be established by the state health commissioner.

“Incentive items” under the proposal, which has been committed to the Committee on Rules, would also include games, trading cards, admission tickets, “or other consumer product, whether physical or digital, with particular appeal to children.” Such items would also include “any coupon, voucher, ticket, token, code or password which is provided directly by the restaurant and is redeemable for or grants digital or other access to any toy, game, trading card, admission ticket, or other consumer product” appealing to children.

The measure defines restaurant to include coffee shops, cafeterias, luncheonettes, sandwich stands, diners, short-order cafes, fast-food establishments, soda fountains, and any other eating or beverage establishments. Violations would be punishable by fines as high as $2,500 for a third violation. The express justification for the proposal is that “Obesity in this country has grown into an alarming epidemic. . . . The food that is served in restaurants that is geared toward our children is often the culprit in this obesity epidemic. Studies have shown a positive association between eating out, higher caloric intakes, and higher body weights. Children often eat nearly twice as many calories (an average of 770) when they eat a meal at a restaurant than they do when they eat at home (an average of 420). . . . Restaurants are encouraging our children to make these unhealthy choices by linking them with a free toy or other incentive item.” Companion legislation has apparently been introduced in the State Assembly by Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn).