I grew up on McDonald’s Happy Meals. I am not overweight, and my cholesterol levels are fine. How often did I have one? Probably only a couple times a month. I became a vegetarian at age 16, and I have not had any McDonald’s food since. My children have only eaten fast food twice, and that was with grandparents without parental consent.
Why do families eat at McDonald’s? Is it convenience? Is it the price? It certainly can’t be for the quality of the food or the quality of the toy.
Last fall, San Francisco banned toys in high calorie meals targeted for children. This decision has been debated as parent’s choice versus the interest of public health. Now the Big Apple may follow the City by the Bay.
The New York Times reports:
Mr. Comrie, a member of the City Council, wants such toys, found in McDonald’s Happy Meals, to be banned from their bright cardboard boxes if the meals’ high content of fat, salt and sugar is not reduced. While Happy Meal treats might seem to be the prime target, Mr. Comrie is taking aim at any fast-food meals that include toys to appeal to children.
Mr. Comrie’s bill, which he is to introduce in the City Council on Wednesday, would restrict toys to meals that contain fewer than 500 calories and 600 milligrams of sodium, and in which less than 35 percent of the calories come from fat (making exceptions for nuts, seeds, peanut butter or other nut-based butters). In addition, the meal would have to contain a half a cup of fruit or vegetables or one serving of whole-grain products.
The proposal resembles a measure adopted in San Francisco last year, over the strenuous lobbying of fast-food chains, to remove toys from all fast-food meals that do not comply with healthier nutritional standards. Mr. Comrie’s proposal would impose stricter caloric and sodium standards than San Francisco’s rules, which call for fewer than 600 calories and 640 milligrams of sodium.
Interestingly, Comrie does feed his own children Happy Meals, and he himself is “seriously overweight.” This outrages some parents, but I think it highlights the concern from a real Happy Meals supporter. On Gawker, GingerDayWalker commented:
So basically, here’s a man with some legislative power, who couldn’t even parent his own children effectively and certainly demonstrates no self-restraint himself. And now he’s going to tell you what to do with your kids and your body and your health.
I have to disagree. Childhood and adult obesity are on the rise (check out your county’s obesity rates). If business cannot take it upon itself to be concerned about the health of their customers, than government regulations are needed. I wish it wasn’t so. It is really no different than the tobacco industry lying to consumers about the risks of smoking and marketing cigarettes to our youth with cartoon-like campaigns. Not too many parents complained when the government cracked down on Philip Morris.
If you are selling a product that is a concern for public health, then yes, legislative power may be necessary when business ethics fail. If parents really want to serve their children the less healthy version of a Happy Meal, let them. They can just forgo the toy or pay for it separately. Let healthy eating habits be rewarded. Besides, we really don’t need anymore junky plastic toys in our world.
Image: Some rights reserved by Pocheco