Opinion: Happy Meal Toy Ban Is Just Plain Sad

Filed under: Opinions


Have you ever wondered why so many kids these days are obese? Is it because they eat food such as the McDonald's Cheeseburger Happy Meal, which contains more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium? Or is the free Beanie Baby that comes in the box to blame?


Well, some folks in California think the problem is the toys. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance prohibiting restaurants from giving away toys with meals that don't meet certain health requirements.

"This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes," Supervisor Ken Yeager tells the San Francisco Chronicle, adding that, "It is unfair to parents and children to use toys to capture the tastes of children when they are young and get them hooked on eating high-sugar, high-fat foods early in life."

This is not a new idea. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says its mission is to fight against "the harmful effects of marketing to children." The Food Marketing & Childhood Obesity page of the group's website states: "In 2006, more than 80 different media programs were used to promote food to children through brand licensing or toy giveaways. That same year fast food restaurants sold more than 1.2 billion kids meals with toys."

Could some companies be more responsible in their marketing to young people? Sure. But it's still up to the adults to decide what their kids eat. After all, they aren't eating the toys.

Blogger Kristen Dimont tells the Los Angeles Times her daughter "went through a phase when (she) wanted the Happy Meal just to get the toy," and that after her daughter tried fast food for the first time, she was hooked on the stuff. Dimont says the Santa Clara Supervisors should ban play yards at fast food establishments, as well, since those also are designed to attract children.

Great idea. That way, after kids eat a fattening meal, they can just sit and not have any place to burn off the calories.

As for being "hooked" on fast food, what happened to parents just saying no? I ate McDonald's growing up, and I stopped several years ago, mostly for health reasons. I don't take my kids to fast food places, and I tell them it's because the food isn't good for them, and that fresh food tastes better. If they say they want to go to McDonald's because of a particular toy, I make the decision whether or not we go. It's my money, not theirs.

The idea that marketing to children is the problem is simply a smokescreen. It's up to parents to make sensible decisions for their children. Don't want them to see an R-rated movie? Don't take them to see one. And if you don't want your kids eating certain foods, don't buy them.

Of course, there are times when your kids aren't with you. But fast food restaurants aren't the only places children eat unhealthy food. What about the French fries they're served at school, which count as a vegetable, at least according to federal regulations? That's what happened on Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution":




To combat childhood obesity, we need to focus on the food. Instead of blaming a plastic Hamburgular plaything, why not look at something the government is already involved in, such as school lunches? I don't know how things are in Santa Clara County, but in many parts of the country, kids are served fattening lunches at school every single day. Supervisor Yeager tells the Chronicle he wants his small town to be a leader in the area of childhood obesity. That's much more likely to happen if he does something to address the obesity problem directly, such as changing what kids are eating in their school cafeterias.

Yeager does acknowledge that "toys in and of themselves do not make children obese." That's a sign that he hasn't completely gone off the rails, and the three to two vote by the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors shows the ordinance did not have everyone's support.

The California Restaurant Association has been given 90 days to come up with an alternative to the legislation. I hope cooler heads will prevail, and they will find a way to ensure that children and parents are given more information about the food they eat, and perhaps even some guidance when it comes to making healthier choices.

I don't know if there is a legal solution to the obesity problem, but I do know that banning toys is not the answer.

Related: Opinion: "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" Shows That Kids Don't Read

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.