Opinion: Happy Meal Toy Lawsuit Is Out to Lunch

Filed under: Opinions

Will banning Happy Meal toys make kids eat healthier? Credit: Ben Stansall, AFP / Getty Images


Fighting childhood obesity is a good thing. Unfortunately, some folks are too focused on the toys in our kids' hands rather than the unhealthy food in their mouths.


Remember last month, when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance to prevent restaurants from giving away toys with unhealthy meals? Someone at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) must have thought that was a great idea. The advocacy group is planning to sue McDonald's over Happy Meal toys, because it says the toys are designed to get children to use their "pester power" to convince Mom and Dad to visit the Golden Arches. Once there, kids acquire the latest cheap plastic doohickey, which comes with fattening food.

We know children can become obsessed with a plaything if they see a commercial for it over and over again. But if the folks at the CSPI believe separating Happy Meals from toys is going to keep kids out of McDonald's, they must be out to lunch.

CSPI seems like a good organization. According to its website, the group currently is working toward "accurate and honest labeling on food packages," improving food safety laws and getting junk food out of our schools.

These are laudable goals. But this threatened lawsuit against McDonald's is attacking the wrong problem.

Yes, marketing to children is excessive. But kids aren't eating the toys. Does anyone really believe children will stop wanting McDonald's french fries without the promise of a free toy? (Hasn't anyone at CSPI ever eaten those fries? They may not be healthy, but they're delicious.) And what about all of the adults scarfing down Big Macs every single day? Not all of the billions and billions of burgers the fast food giant has served over the years were eaten by grade-schoolers. A lack of toys isn't sending grownups to the salad bar.

Here's some free advice for CSPI and food advocates everywhere: Want kids to eat healthier? Focus on the food. Not the toys.

Related: He Ain't Heavy, He's My Toddler: Parents in Denial Over Their Kids' Weight

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