Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance – San Francisco, USA

Key Insights

  • Nutritional standards for restaurant foods
  • Promotions with children’s meals
  • Healthy out-of-home eating


The city of San Francisco has high rates of child obesity, yet restaurant and takeaway menus for children often consist of unhealthy items like burgers, nuggets and fries, accompanied by a free toy. In an effort to prevent food businesses from making unhealthy food attractive to children, in 2011 the city introduced the Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance that bans give-aways with children’s meals that do not meet nutritional standards. An impact study found that some restaurants implemented menu changes but many exploited a loophole allowing them to sell a toy with the meal for a nominal charge.


This case study version is from the Menu of Actions (2019). Suggested citation: Halliday, J., Platenkamp, L., Nicolarea, Y. (2019) A menu of actions to shape urban food systems for improved nutrition, GAIN, MUFPP and RUAF.

San Francisco (USA), Shutterstock/Canadastock

The action and its aims

San Francisco introduced the Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance (Art. 8 Section 471 of San Francisco Health Code) that banned restaurants and takeaways from offering free toys and other items with children’s meals, unless the meals meet nutritional standards on total calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fats, sodium, and minimal fruit and vegetable content. The aim was to prevent food businesses from making unhealthy foods more attractive to children.

When it was introduced

The ordinance was introduced in 2011.

Why it was needed

It was deemed necessary in light of the high rates of child obesity in San Francisco. Children’s menus in restaurants and takeaways tend to contain items like burgers, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, fries and soft drinks, and often exceed recommended calorie intake. Free gifts make these options more attractive to children.

Who initiated it, who is involved

The action was adopted by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The lead implementing entities are the city’s Department of Public Health and the Department of Environment.

Impacts to date

An impact study looking at practices of two global restaurant chains following the ordinance found that both implemented some menu changes, particularly regarding side dishes. However, they found a loophole and continued to offer toys with unhealthy meal purchases for an additional USD.10, meaning they were no-longer free; 88% of customers chose to buy the toys.

Do you have an update to this case study?

Contact us

Further reading

What can you do?

Learn about more themes and topics

Share your city’s case study and lessons learned

Sign up to receive updates

Learn more about upcoming events and other highlights 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Food System

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a significant number of interconnected objectives related to agriculture and food.

Contact details



Related case studies