McDonald's Corp. can keep selling Happy Meals with toys to California children after a San Francisco judge threw out a proposed class-action lawsuit seeking to ban the practice in the state.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said it will discuss with its co-plaintiff -- a California mother -- whether to appeal. The group did not seek damages for its fellow plaintiff, though it alleged that she "suffered a monetary loss" because of McDonald's toy-marketing ways.
Michael F. Jacobson, the consumer advocacy group's executive director, said in a strongly worded statement that using toys to lure kids to unhealthy fast food was "a predatory practice" that involves "unscrupulous marketing techniques."
"McDonald's must stop exploiting children at some point," Jacobson said, adding that eventually, the tactic "will seem as inappropriate and anachronistic as lead paint, child labor and asbestos."
The suit was initially filed in 2010.
Meanwhile, orders for kids' meals packaged with toys seem to be sliding.
As far back as 2009, research group NPD had data suggesting that children's menus with toys attached were experiencing a sharp plunge in popularity, though they continue to be the best-selling options for customers under age 13.
But pizza "is far and away the most popular fast food for children," with fries and chicken nuggets "beginning to fall out of favor," the group found. Last year, McDonald's bent to consumer pressure and said it would add a serving of fruit or vegetables to all its Happy Meals while shrinking the fries portion.
Other companies, including Olive Garden owner Darden Restaurants, have also agreed to cut calorie and sodium levels in children's menus.
McDonald's said it was pleased with the San Francisco decision, saying in a statement that the lawsuit "is without merit and detracts from the important issue of children's health and nutrition."
"We are proud of our Happy Meals and will vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food," said spokeswoman Danya Proud. "We stand on our 30-year track record of providing a fun experience for kids and families at McDonald's."