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McDonald's finds way around San Fran toy ban

McDonald's Happy Meals come with toys for boys and girls.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Score one for the Golden Arches, but for childhood obesity, maybe not so much. McDonald's, the much loved and loathed international hamburger chain, has found an ingenious way of skirting San Francisco city council's ban on giving free toys away with unhealthy meals.

It's a solution so smart, in fact, that the company might even wind up selling more of its salty, greasy Happy Meals to kids.

As of today, San Francisco parents will have to pay an extra 10 cents if they want a toy with their children's burgers. And they will no longer be able to buy a toy without purchasing a meal.

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There's been plenty of outrage, as you might expect. SF Weekly, the city newspaper that broke the news of the McDonald's strategy, called the company "sneaky" in its headline, and quoted a public-health lawyer who said the company "has developed a response to the law that allows them to continue marketing this unhealthful food to children in the midst of an obesity crisis."

Another McDonald's foe told the Huffington Post: "Instead of doing the right thing, McDonald's is avoiding limiting its marketing to kids or improving the nutritional quality of their unhealthy food by selling toys "separately" for an additional 10 cents – while still requiring purchase of a Happy Meal to get the toy."

Yet the company has also managed to earn a bit of high-placed sympathy through its San Francisco troubles, as lawmakers in Nebraska, Florida and Arizona proposed legislation to prevent cities in those states from banning free toy giveaways.

What do you think? Does giving free toys away really make kids want unhealthy food more? Or are salty fries enough of a draw on their own?

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